The Problem with Oprah vs. Reese
Warning: This post is not about business. It’s personal.
I cried during Oprah’s Golden Globes speech last night. I cried because it feels so relevant and so overdue, because her presence and mastery outclass all of the jackasses we hear from on a regular basis, for the hopefulness she instills and the depth of how much we need it, for the lives that will benefit just because of that moment, the ripple it sent out into the world, and for my daughters, and my son, who deserve a better world.
I’ve been thinking about how when Oprah speaks, there is a tangible electrical current vibrating and whispering, “we got this, let’s change the world”. That’s power.
I watched her speech again today to see if it was as inspiring as I first thought or if I simply got caught up in the moment — there’s no doubt it was a masterpiece.
I found myself contrasting Oprah’s majesty to Reese’s enthusiasm. I admire both women, but Oprah has a gravitas and command that are unparalleled. Reese’s intro felt a little thin in comparison and I think it’s because of her enthusiasm and pertness. We, as a society, have accepted the archetype of “wise woman” but fight the wisdom of “cheerleader”. We value both youth and exuberance, but don’t expect to learn from them. And yet, Reese has been a champion of this cause too. Enthusiasm moves mountains and creates waves and she also deserves credit.
I was judging her introduction and I hated myself for it. Upon deeper reflection, I realized I was really judging myself. After 42 years of irrepressible enthusiasm, I can tell you, it’s just who I am. I love life! But sometimes my youthful exuberance (I’m a young 42) is a disservice to my credibility and executive presence.
I was also judging the system in that on a night like last night, we, as women, celebrated the moment for all that it was, and it over-delivered, but still I found myself caring about the gowns, hairstyles, jewelry, and companions. I didn’t want to care, but I did. And on the surface, that’s fine, you love what you love, but underneath was the realization that I am so conditioned to evaluate a woman on her looks and in the context of other women that I do it effortlessly.
I’m embarrassed to admit it and I stopped as soon as I noticed, but it’s common, right? The conditioning was in the comparison of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in Allison Janney’s speech, it was in the E network’s pre- post- and red-carpet coverage when every single actress was evaluated for what she wore in the context of what other actresses wore, or versus previous versions of herself on the red carpet.
How many times have you/your friend responded to a celebrity’s beauty with “well if it was my job to look good all the time and I had a trainer and a chef and piles of money and blah, blah, blah”. It’s so reductive. Yeah, Halle Berry looks incredible. She’s looked flawless at every age and for my entire life. She probably doesn’t have to do her own laundry, but so what? Or say what you will about Kim K. Would you trade getting out of doing your own laundry for the entire world evaluating your ass every time you left the house? Really, would you?
Beauty is only one aspect of womanhood and it’s not even the best part. All of us are complicated complex amazing women in our own right. We create our context. Yes, we let others see what we want them to see, we share some aspects with some people and other aspects with others, and we play to our strengths and advantages. If being guarded or revealing less than everything about who we are and our capabilities is what we have had to do as women to survive, so be it, but, like Oprah said, “a new day is on the horizon”. Our competitiveness, pettiness, and fear aren’t innate, they’re systemic, but we’re changing the system. Just as we’re changing the conversation with and about men, we’re changing it with and and about women, and I love it!!! (extra exclamation points totally intentional!!!)