“This is why more women need to make more money! So that they can walk away from men who want to do stupid shit to women!” I exclaimed to my 15-year old son at my dining room table over my morning coffee, The New York Times in hand (yes, I still get the paper version delivered).
Emmett was putting on his backpack and coat for school. “OK mom!” He knows better than to stop me when I am on a rant about why women need to make more money and why this is the last front of feminism. He totally agrees. But he also didn’t want to be late for his science test. I still had time while he put his sneakers on. “Did you see this article about Victoria Secrets Angels?” I showed him the paper and he looked up from his laces. “Big surprise, the men in charge were treating the “angels” in abusive ways. They have a multi-million dollar lawsuit on their hands. Too bad they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves in the first place! It’s getting traced back to Epstein too.” He looked at me and blinked, like he didn’t know who that was. I said, “You know, Epstein, the guy we read about who molested the young girls and then committed suicide in prison?” He nodded, “Oh yeah, that guy, I had him confused with Weinstein for a minute.”
Ready for THE CHANGE
What kind of world is it when there are so many men doing unspeakably reprehensible things to women that we can’t even keep them straight!
Victoria Secret “Angels” Call Out Persistent Abuse
Emmett left for school and I took to my computer. I am determined that my two boys grow up knowing that some men come up with really stupid and terrible ideas about how to treat their female employees and colleagues — so that my boys can be part of THE CHANGE. You know, THE CHANGE? The magic switch we are going to flip that will result in men, women and non-binary people of all races and ages having equal access to good jobs, good pay, growth capital and the same odds of building successful businesses? That one. So we can go back to saying “Me Too” about ordering the chocolate molten lava cake for dessert.
It’s about the money
In reading about the 30 Victoria’s Secret “Angels” who came forward to say they had been harassed and in many cases inappropriately touched and asked to pose nude and perform sex acts, I was struck how the big boss, Les Wexner, enabled all this in large part by not firing his head of marketing, Ed Razek, who seems to have been the main perpetrator. His name jumped out at me because, oddly, he is from the same home town as my mother. More on that below.
Reading this story reminded me that as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents, we have an important job: raising our boys to understand that even if they were raised to respect women, not everyone is. And they have a role to play in stepping up whenever that line is crossed, just as we all do when we hear a racist or homophobic comment or witness behavior that crosses the line. We need to be aware, be empathetic, and be proactive. Like it says all over the New York subways, “If you see something, say something.”
But it does come back to money. Women need to make more money so they can have alternatives to jobs like being Playboy Bunnies and Victoria’s Secret Angels, which often put them in the hands of men whose moral compass is busted, if they ever had one. I know someone out there will protest and say, “But some women WANT to be bunnies and angels, Julia!” I know. I even worked briefly with a woman who was my counterpart in organizing women entrepreneurs — and yet also spent her free time at Hooter’s, the restaurant chain that has its waitresses serve in revealing outfits to show off their breasts. I have known women who don’t find this to be a feminist contradiction and it’s true that women should be able to work wherever we want without the fear of unwanted advances. Still, I suspect that for 90% of the women who are lingerie models, they would happily run their own business or work for a woman who has created a great work culture, rather than go to a place every day where her expiration date is 35 and where she might on any given day be asked to do things that repulse and demean her. Of course some models will become moguls, like Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks and Chrissy Teigen, but they are few and far between.
Sadly, I am not an idealist. I sometimes wish I was. I wish I believed that one day, women who are vulnerable — economically, emotionally or physically — will not be at risk. I don’t believe that day will come, looking at history and for how many thousands of years women have been at risk. I do believe the best antidote to angels and bunnies and hooters is to empower more women to create their own wealth and specifically their own companies so they never have to choose between having a 70 year old boss touch their privates and putting food on the table for their kids. I am heartened many people have stepped up to join our mission at Million Dollar Women (helping one million women get to $1M in revenues) and how many men are part of our movement.
He is going to ruin us!
My mother grew up in Columbus, Ohio where Les Wexner, the founder of L Brands (which owns Victoria’s Secret) is from. They went to the same high school and my grandfather and Les Wexner’s father used to have lunch together at the local diner. Les’ dad complained to my grandfather that his son wanted to take out loans and expand the family retail business. “He’s going to drive us into bankruptcy with his big ideas!” he would lament. It turned out quite the opposite. Les Wexner built up the clothing brand Unlimited into a massive success story, bought up other brands, and now his net worth is $4.5B. He was once seen as a local hero in Ohio, but I imagine that story has a big asterisk now.
When the stream of complaints started coming in about Wexner’s head of marketing, Ed Razek, and his “inappropriate conduct” with the models, Wexner could have used a sliver of his billions to find a new head of marketing whose mama raised him right. Instead, he let this behavior stand and thereby condoned it. As quoted in The New York Times, “This abuse was just laughed off and accepted as normal. It was almost like brainwashing. And anyone who tried to do anything about it wasn’t just ignored. They were punished.” Wexner also had a two decade long friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted of sex trafficking and was then found dead in his jail cell while awaiting trial.
Help our girls step away from abusive work places
So what can we do other than make our kids late for their science tests? In addition to making sure men who abuse their positions are outed and punished, we can all do something to get closer to THE CHANGE. We can raise our kids to know they can and should step in when they see a busted moral compass, and we can raise our girls to know they should step out when men cross the line. Our girls will step out more easily and often when they know they can make money elsewhere. If they become founders, they can also create jobs for thousands more women as they do. That’s the world I want to raise my kids in, don’t you? As for angels and bunnies, I still love them when they are made out of chocolate, but they make me queasy the way they are served now.
To read my Forbes article “From Bunnies to Board Members: When Girls Join Boys’ Clubs” about how more men’s business clubs can integrate women, click here.
To read The New York Times article cited above, click here.