Earlier this week, I was thrilled to publish a letter to the editor from UCLA’s undergraduate student government president about female leadership and the representation of women. It’s a topic that’s not only close to my heart, but also of profound relevance as report after report surfaces of men in positions of power — in Hollywood, on Capitol Hill, everywhere — abusing their power to sexually exploit those who lack the resources to fight back.
Many have responded to the unveiling of this systemic issue by rising in solidarity, bravely sharing their stories and demanding accountability. But others, like Republican Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, have suggested that the solution to this issue might be to hire fewer women — as if women should be punished for the inexcusable behavior of men, and, as if hiring more people who are less likely to sexually harass their peers and subordinates — women — would hurt rather than help the situation.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has argued, while responding to a journalist’s question about the handfuls of allegations against President Donald Trump, that accusations of sexual misconduct should not even be investigated unless the accused man admits to his misdeeds. Sanders has a long history of saying dangerous things to defend her boss, but without doubt, this — a blanket shield for sexual predators to hide behind across the country — was her most dangerous yet. Her words discredit and directly attack all women who are survivors of abuse, and tell the many women who experience harassment and abuse every day that they must suffer in silence because their words will never be believed over those of their powerful male abusers.
As I write my last column of the semester, it seems we’ve reached a crossroads. Women and survivors of sexual abuse across the country have finally managed to prove that a systemic issue we’ve faced since the dawn of time actually exists. Proving this was far from easy. Many who have never experienced sexism firsthand are skeptics of its continued existence, and the cultural awareness that we’re seeing now marks a crucial step in the right direction. But the aforementioned responses to these revelations make it painfully clear how much work still remains to be done.
The issue of limitations on female authority in this country pervades everything — gender gaps in Hollywood and Congress, laws that deny women basic decision-making authority over their own bodies and, more than anything, the widespread notion that masculinity rather than femininity equates to strength and effective leadership. Why is industry sexual abuse so prevalent? Because of male dominance in leadership across every industry. And why do men dominate leadership roles across every industry? For far too long, we as a society have accepted the lie that there are simply fewer qualified, ambitious women than there are qualified, ambitious men as an acceptable answer.
But then came Nov. 8, 2016.
For the many who have tried to repress the events of that date from their memories, Nov. 8, 2016 was the day we elected Donald Trump: a man with over a dozen accusations of sexual abuse toward women and zero public service experience, over the most qualified — and first female — candidate in our nation’s history. After that, how could we ever again delude ourselves into believing that gender gaps in leadership roles are not, at least in some measure, the product of disdain for female authority?
A few months after the election, I had the honor of becoming the Daily Trojan’s editorial director, succeeding a long line of brilliant, ambitious and fearless female editorial directors. For most of my life, I’d internalized my identity as a follower. Only through observing the graceful leadership and receiving the guidance and support of Danni Wang and Sonali Seth, both editorial directors before me, did I finally begin to see myself as more than just a girl who loved to write, but as a leader.
Of course, it wasn’t just them. Through the weekly “Playing Politics” column authored by Lily Vaughan, the editorial director before me, I’ve learned the importance and power of outspokenness from young women. And this semester, from watching the leadership of our editor-in-chief Emma Peplow, I’ve become convinced that no challenge — nor any rapid succession of challenges — is too much for a determined woman driven by the desire to serve something she believes in.
What I’ve learned from all of this is that powerful women deserving of all the opportunities in the world, qualified and equipped with all the requisite skills to be brilliant leaders, aren’t just the icons we see on TV screens or read about in news articles. Powerful women are everywhere because, simply put, it takes power just to be a woman in a society ruled by men. That’s something I’ve always believed in, and working as the editorial director of the Daily Trojan for this past year has only reinforced that belief.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” ran Thursdays.