Remarks by Michele Coleman Mayes at NYCLA’s 103rd Annual Dinner
December 15, 2017
This has always been my dream to represent 54 powerful women in 3 minutes.
So who are these indefatigable women who we’re honoring tonight? I will tell you they are awesome and they are priceless. You’ve already heard they’re chief judges, prosecutors, general counsel, you name it, but they are also much more than that. They are mothers and sisters, they are role models, they are mentors, they are friends, they are the voices for a lot of people who have no voice. I want to say to all of these 54 women, thank you for proving what is possible.
And while we’re here to celebrate your fabulousness, I can’t say it better than Judge McMahon did, but I’ll give it a shot, which is it would be unfortunate not to take notice of the hashtag, #MeToo. And lest it be misunderstood, all the women who’ve been assaulted have not spoken out, despite what folks may think, but let me tell you what has changed: there are courageous women who are willing to no longer remain silent. They have spoken truth to power. That is not an easy thing to do, despite what some of you may think. In the past, they would have been marginalized, victimized, called liars, or worse. Now they are being listened to and there have been consequences. And now there is a fear that the pendulum has swung too far, but guess what? Lasting change is messy and it’s disruptive. New boundaries need to be set and those boundaries cannot be set in one news cycle, they can’t be done in one tweet, although Judge McMahon came close with ‘W.W.M.S.’, or maybe it’s ‘W.W.W.S.,’ What would wife say? But the point is this: let the pendulum keep swinging, although you might not want to stand in its path. While this occurs, I would urge all the people in this room, men and women, to understand that it is not acceptable, that it is not an option to say that the woman is at fault. You can’t harass me, assault me, and fire me, or as someone would say in simpler terms, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’ But what I would ask you to do is to realize that if you lock us out of the workplace, call it the Graham Rule or any other label you care to put on it, you would have missed these 54 fabulous people who are being honored this evening and wouldn’t that have resulted in irreparable losses?
I am reminded of the words of an older woman who once said, “We ain’t what we oughta be, we ain’t what we wanna be, we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank goodness we ain’t what we was.” Let me end with the words of Gal Gadot, the star of Wonder Woman and yes, that movie made history this year as the highest grossing super hero original movie of all time, a chick flick. She said it best: “Women can be amazing, badass, strong, and inspiring.” All of that is true and it’s not just in the movies. So thank you, my badass sisters, for showing what is possible.