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Okay, Oprah: Or, a Pat on the Back and a Push Forward

I didn’t watch the Golden Globes this year. In fact, the closest I got to Oprah Winfrey was when a customer at the Starbucks I work in forgot we no longer sold her chai tea and ordered a “dirty Oprah” by mistake. Still, I was told about the speech. And I watched it. And I, like so many others, was moved by her words. 

It made me irritated, too. Here’s the thing: it’s incredible that Oprah stands with women who are oppressed, abused, assaulted, and silenced. Beyond incredible. She spoke with a characteristic eloquence that made people aware and gave people hope in a way so many of us need right now. However, we cannot deny that she had the opportunity to speak those words on such a public stage because she is Oprah.

She’s one of the most powerful women in the world. I don’t think the irony is lost on anyone that the network that she owns is, well, OWN. We think Oprah, we think mogul, renaissance woman, icon, boss. The woman doesn’t need her last name anymore (or, the last five letters of her first, if you’re looking at her magazine). That kind of power, influence, and recognition makes it easier for her to give the kind of speech she gave with this kind of public enthusiasm.
I’m not writing this to bash Oprah. In fact, this is really the opposite of that. I’m grateful that, in a moment that could have been full of teary “thank yous” and personal anecdotes, she took time to educate, to empower, and, to acknowledge the little girls watching everywhere.  I just want to know what she’s going to do now.

Oprah, with everything you have, with the moments beyond that 9 1/2 minutes onstage, how are you helping to usher in that new day? Because I want to follow your example and the example of all the women in the room with you who are role models to me. The Time’s Up movement is fantastic, but you said we all deserve to speak our truth. I’m thinking TV shows, films, podcasts, books, online content, hieroglyphs, fiction, nonfiction, etc. I’m thinking BIG. I’m thinking ahead. I’m thinking of all the women I know and the guaranteed many others I don’t who feel discouraged enough by the state of the world and their lives that they’ve stopped telling their stories. I’m thinking of the fire you’ve just lit under their bellies and how we keep that alive. Let’s do it. You have the empire. Those women have their black dresses. Let’s do something about it. 

I’m going to call myself out here, too. It feels like I’ve been replaying the “Maybe I’m Not Good Enough” speech from La La Land in my head since I graduated college. Before that, actually. And I’ve let it get to me. I’ve let it stop me. I’ve let it stop me from speaking my mind, from caring, from believing. I’ve had ideas for this blog, this blog I’ve had for 7 years, that I’ve kept for no one other than myself, that I haven’t published or even written down because I thought “who cares?”. The same goes with ideas for scripts and tweets and jokes and hobbies and small talk topics. It’s the reason I didn’t say “me, too” when I could have. This attitude makes me part of the problem, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. 

I may not have an empire or a black dress (well, I’m sure I have one somewhere), but I have my voice. It may be small and it may not carry very far, but I can use it. I can still tell a story. It may not matter to anybody else, but it matters to me. I know our world is oversaturated with the misspelled opinions of others, and that may make us less willing to speak, but we still have to speak.  We have to use what we have, talents and voices. We have to use our ears, too. Kinder humans make for a better world, and being listened to never made anyone feel less kind or valued (that I know of. Someone could tell that story). We have to believe we are enough, and that others are enough, no matter where we come from, what we look like, or what we can do. 

Here’s the bottom line. Hollywood and Washington and the whole rest of the world cannot and will not change overnight. There is no magic Oprah speech that can do that (but hey, maybe someday). Words are not enough, either. It takes action. We have to keep encouraging each other and move ahead. We can pat each other on the back, and we should, but we also have to push forward. That’s how we change what we want to be changed. Empathy, passion, and action. Doing what you can with what you have, whether it’s a media empire or 20 people reading this. We use what we have. A pat on the back and a push forward. That’s how this new day arrives.

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