The Double Standard That Inspired Phenomenal x InStyle’s New Collab
When Kamala Harris accepted the nomination for Vice President last week, her DNC speech summarized the current state of the world as “a lot.” Those two small words so perfectly described how many were feeling — about the government, about the pandemic, about the violence and murder of Black people all around the country. It is, in fact, a lot.
Even though it sometimes feels like the most common rallying emotion is rage, there are still bright spots we can celebrate. For so many of us, Kamala’s spot on the ticket alongside Joe Biden is a major ray of light. When I got that alert on my phone, it was the first time had I read a real piece of good news since March.
It was also good news for her niece, Meena Harris, whom you might have seen introducing Kamala at the virtual event. Meena — a lawyer, activist, and children’s book author — also has a line of clothing, Phenomenal, which aims to celebrate women and champion women’s causes. The brand’s various collections benefit different charities.
“Phenomenal has always been about telling stories and driving action,” she tells InStyle. “I started the brand shortly after the 2016 election, and like a lot of people, in that moment I found myself wondering what I could personally do to lift up women, make our voices heard, and support issues I care about. This started as a very small initiative to raise money for women’s organizations and has grown ever since.”
Now, InStyle is beyond thrilled to announce a collaboration with Meena on a sweatshirt that celebrates the underrated quality of "ambition" (Shop It: $59; phenomenalwoman.us). Since forever, the word ambitious has been a compliment for a man but a thinly veiled criticism for a woman. Kamala was deemed “too ambitious” to be a serious candidate for Vice President (thankfully, she was chosen anyway), as if aiming for something better is a reason not to put someone in a position where they can create positive change.
“A lot of it is sexism, plain and simple,” says Meena, “From an early age, our society’s message to girls and young women boils down to: ‘Dim your light. Wait your turn.’”
The subconscious, sinister impact of this mentality runs deep, as Meena knows all too well.
“This conditions us to subordinate who we are to what other people think we should be. It’s incredibly taxing and oppressive to live with, day after day. Even worse, it perpetuates a long history of suppressing women’s desires and achievements — especially women of color."
That's exactly why elevating Senator Harris' unabashed ambition to connote positivity, exceptionalism, and something to admire, is especially important right now. Watching an ambitious woman rise to power should be dazzling, not demoralizing.
"The double standard is all about power," says Meena. "People feel threatened by ambitious women because they think we’re trying to take something away from them — as though power is a pie, and we’ve got our eyes on their piece. It hits the ultimate patriarchy nerve.”
Where in the past the goal might have been to avoid hitting that nerve at all costs, our collective M.O. now is to stomp on it.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a profound awakening all across this country, with women right at the forefront. Everywhere you look, women are stepping up, speaking out, leading the resistance.” says Meena. “Black women have long been the most reliable and active participants in our democracy, yet historically, they’ve also been the last group granted the protections to participate."
Despite her awareness of the massive amount of work that still lies ahead, Meena is determined to keep this movement moving. And sometimes that means redefining words — like "ambition" — we thought we understood.
"We stand on the shoulders of phenomenal women like Frances Harper, Ida B. Wells, and Barbara Jordan. Black women will not be suppressed or silenced. Black women refuse to be deterred or defeated. So it’s past time to speak those ambitions out loud: Black women are gonna win — period. At life, in the workplace, at the ballot box. It might seem like a bold or provocative thing to say, but that’s exactly the point: we’re done trying to be subtle and making ourselves small.”
You can pre-order our sweatshirt — which will ship August 31 —for $59 at phenomenalwoman.us.