Friday Round Up: Good News About Women and Power Edition


Yesterday afternoon I went to the Women’s Media Center office in New York to do a short video interview about the future of feminism. This set me to thinking once again about how much unused power women have in our hands, as I continue my search for the practical power tools and tips that can help us get past our resistance to power.

I’d been just mulling this when I clicked onto Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list last week. At first, I thought, hmmm, this list is improving: it contains a higher percentage of women in politics and business and fewer in the entertainment world then years past.

But then I took a look at the video of a sampling of those powerful women talking about power and guess what? To a person, they either say they don’t have power (Anna Wintour? Are you fricking kidding me?) or downplay the value of the power they have. Or they try to morph it into various other words.

“But, heavens, let’s not admit to having real power, or even wanting it” seems to be what was in the memo to these women as they prepared for their interviews.

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I thought the best answers were given by new IMF head Christine Lagarde, who said without missing a beat that power is “The ability to set the agenda.” I also resonated with the way former president of Chile and current head of U.N. women, Michele Bachelet, defined power as “the condition that enables you to perform and develop the things you think need to be done.” Sounds like “power to” to me!

Kate Farrar writing on the AAUW Dialog blog took a different angle in analyzing the list of powerful women, focusing in particularly on the underrepresentation of women in politics. And she yearns for more younger women on the list.

Certainly this headline about my friend Nell Merlino’s brainchild is cause for applause: “Make Mine a Million $ Business Program Celebrates Power of Women Owned Businesses with Ringing of The Opening Bell(SM) at New York Stock Exchange Friday, September 2, 2011 — Pre-Labor Day Bell Spotlights Impact and Potential of Women Entrepreneurs Creating Jobs and Fueling US Economy”

But still, where is the female Bill Gates? That kind of quantum level wealth creation by creating a new technology that changes how we live should be the next glass ceiling for a woman to crash through. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is great, but she didn’t create Google or Facebook, her previous and current employers.

There’s a—pun intended—wealth of difference. Her much-cited and shared TedWomen talk from last December  is mostly about how women can adapt to a system designed to keep them out, rather than changing it. The fact that this speech was made at a TedWomen conference, held in response to complaints that the “real Ted” lacked a representative number of women, reveals the cultural bias still poisoning the well. (Like this Facebook page “She Should Talk at Ted” and participate in its activities if you want to help fix that.)

So back to my interview on feminism. Do I think it’s all bad news? No way! I said that feminism has essentially won the revolution. We’ve changed the world in ways large and small. We’ve seen a woman first almost everything. We’ve opened doors, changed laws, and changed minds. Now even right wing Republicans know it’s a good idea to have a woman on the ballot.

But in every social justice movement, declaring victory is not the end but the beginning of the next phase. After the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, came the need to govern a bunch of disparate colonies, and after the fine words of the Constitution came a 200+ year battle to extend the blessings of liberty to African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, and other disenfranchised groups. That’s still a work in progress.

So we women must face the fact that one thing we haven’t changed sufficiently yet is our own relationship with power. We aren’t walking through those open doors in numbers large enough or with sufficient intention to reach parity at work or in politics for at least two more generations at the rate we’re going.

Let’s speed it up. We have the power in our hands. And we have the proof from many studies that more women in leadership makes for more profitable businesses and better governance.

We earn 60 percent of college degrees, are the majority of voters and half the workplace; we control 85 percent of consumer spending.

The future of feminism will be bright if we use the power in our hands proactively and strategically to bring about the equality for women and social justice for all people.

That’s my take—what’s yours?


No Comments

  1. Aletha on September 3, 2011 at 1:31 am

    I also liked this from Michelle Bachelet:

    The important thing is how you execute the power in the sense of insuring people’s rights and improving their lives, and their dignity and respect.

    I contrast that with this statement from Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones, about the environmental assessment the State Dept. just did of the Keystone XL pipeline, which the President is expected to approve:

    “There would be no significant impact to most resources along the proposed pipeline corridor.

    This is far from an example of executing power to insure people’s rights and improve their lives. It is instead the kind of sellout to big business I have come to expect from the Democrats, and I cannot see how to excuse Hillary Clinton for advocating for this disastrous project. It is her State Department, and Paul Elliot, one of her high-level campaign operatives, has moved on to be a top lobbyist for TransCanada, the company that will build the pipeline.

    I personally would not want to see a female Bill Gates. It would be nice to see a woman become comparably wealthy “by creating a new technology that changes how we live,” but Bill Gates is another who supports the abuse of technology, for instance genetic engineering which he claims will improve the lives of people. This was one especially obnoxious quote from him:

    “Some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment,” Gates said. “They have tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology into sub-Saharan Africa without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it.”

    So opponents of genetically engineered crops do not care about hungry people, huh? That is Bill Gates for you. His ideas for dealing with climate change are possibly even worse. I understand your point, but spare us from a female Bill Gates.

    • Gloria Feldt on September 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      I hear you, Aletha, but my underlying point is that if women will use the “power to” to gain the economic clout of a Bill Gates by creating something so game changing–usually that’s a technology, but not always–then those women will be in a position to change the way business and philanthropy are done as well. Until we are willing to embrace our power to do these things and pursue them with intention, then we’ll all just continue to read one-another’s blogs and complain about the dismal state of the world. Me, I’d rather change it.

  2. Aletha on September 7, 2011 at 1:54 am

    You may be right, Gloria. I have never been optimistic about the ability of women to change the way the system works from within the system. Especially nowadays, when politicians of all stripes are so unpopular and lacking in credibility, it would seem more likely that women could change the system by taking political power, throwing the bums out. However, given the power of mainstream media to convince most people that for all the problems of this political system, we are stuck with these two mainstream parties that have no interest in rocking the boat, it may well be true that women achieving economic power will have a better chance to bring about substantial change. This is happening gradually regardless as women increase their economic clout, and presumably a woman who invents something that shakes up the culture as much as Bill Gates did could change the culture that much more. I think Bill Gates gets way more respect than he deserves. Many people do not realize how he made his money (more or less, he stole the idea for Windows from Apple) or what he is doing with it.

    I do not know how much you have read of my blog. Though I have done my share of complaining about the dismal state of the world, I have also laid out in some depth my vision for how things could be different. I see little point in complaining about problems if one cannot offer potential solutions. Our politicians think they offer solutions, but what I see is a plethora of quick fixes, gimmicks, and public relations ploys that do not solve anything, at best kick the can down the road.

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