New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Power of Women

August 31, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Diane Lefer, Economy, Politics

Having It All By Having Choices…

by Diane Lefer

When you walk into a room and fewer than 50% of the people there are women, “it should look peculiar,” said Madeline Di Nonno, executive director of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, “and it doesn’t.”

Marianne Williamson, in her lead-up to the upcoming November conference SISTER GIANT: Women, Non-Violence and Birthing a New American Politics, points out that woman make up only 16.8% of our elected representatives in Congress — a figure very close to the 17% cited by Di Nonno as the percentage of female characters we see “in the environment” in film and on TV. What’s going on here and how do we change it?

Last week, the West Hollywood Women’s Advisory Board observed Women’s Equality Day with Understanding Our Power, a roundtable discussion moderated by Dianne Callister, academic, theologian, and director of foundations that benefit children and mothers around the world. Di Nonno brought her expertise in media; attorney Angela Reddock spoke from her experience in labor and employment law and city politics while licensed clinical social worker Judi Miller Levy based her remarks on extensive work in the field of domestic and sexual violence. In spite of the power women clearly have and 92 years after we won the right to vote, the speakers considered why, in Di Nonno’s words, “women have stalled out.”

Women in Public Life

“Men just automatically think they should run,” Di Nonno said. “Women think they have to be asked.”

But it’s more complicated than just waiting for an invitation. “We are balancing so many interests and family and other obligations,” said Reddock, but we need to be present. “In LA” — unlike West Hollywood — ”we face the possibility of not having a woman on the LA City Council. Many of the male council members are my friends,” she said, “and so is the mayor, but I know, having been in so many closed-door sessions, that a woman’s voice is so important. We have to be in the room.” (Reddock got a big response from the audience when she wished women had a voice in designing women’s bathrooms.)

The experience of violence holds women back, said Levy. “A lot of energy is expended just surviving. Depression and PTSD use up energy and resources” that would otherwise be given to families and communities. “Even if you’re not a survivor, the fear is a reality for so many women, it’s a fear in all women.”

Gender-Based Violence

“Are we afraid to show our power,” Callister asked, “because it promotes those negative aspects?”

Levy advocated considering the approach of Jackson Katz, the anti-sexist male activist. We have to stop thinking of the violence as a “women’s problem.” Violence perpetrated by men is a men’s problem, she said, “and it won’t be resolved by working only with women. Men are being acculturated in such a way that violence against women is allowed.” We need to confront in our culture the negative ideas of how to be a man and masculine and powerful and see how these ideas threaten the well being not just of women, but of men, she said.

Levy thinks the recent initiative by the City of Santa Monica is on the right track, a “large scale collaborative effort in male violence prevention” aimed at “acculturating boys to see themselves in a different way.” The program enlisted the participation of  everybody who works with young people — coaches, teachers, religious leaders, afterschool care workers — in a broad effort so that the values were expressed and modeled throughout the youth environment, not only by women, but by male role models as well.

A Global Perspective

According to the UN, gender-based violence is the #1 factor holding women back, Callister said. But there’s more: the majority of the world’s women cannot legally own land or property or wealth and have no access to credit. Less than 1% of sales to multinational corporations are from women who are “a growth reserve” of enormous untapped economic power. Even now, though often unpaid, women do more than 66% of the world’s work.

“Everything affects women,” Di Nonno said. “Climate change, war, economy.” The success of microfinance programs targeting woman has shown that when a woman starts a small business, she improves life not only for herself and her family but for her entire village. When women have access to capital, said Di Nonno, “you will see change in the world.” And it’s getting easier, she said. “With digital technology and smart phones, women can now access microfinancing on-line instead of walking three hours to a bank.”

In the US, our situation isn’t as dire, but true equality has not been achieved. When Abbe Land, West Hollywood mayor pro tem, welcomed the audience on Friday, she pointed out that the movement for women’s suffrage began in 1878 and it took 42 years to reach the goal.

(Only a fraction of the time African Americans still struggle for equality. But those 42 years reinforce the reality that activists must take the long view in working for change.)

Today, women still make 70 cents for every dollar paid to men, Callister said. In the extremely lucrative financial sector, the disparity is even greater: 50 cents to the dollar.

Since the Wal-Mart gender discrimination and pay case, Reddock sees many more women taking employers to court. Especially as women take on the major corporations, “we will start to see change.” But wherever you are employed, she said, you can start in small ways working for an equal playing field. Does your employer offer “a welcoming environment? Are accommodations made for us?” The City of Los Angeles, for example, just opened a room for employees where working mothers of infants can breastfeed.

Which brings us to the inevitable question.

Can We Have It All?

“Can men have it all?” asked Di Nonno. “Can anyone have it all?” She thinks the entire controversy aimed specifically at women was contrived by the media and not based in reality.

“It’s impossible to do everything,” Reddock said. “The real question is having choices. Not having it all, but having choices” and having your choice respected.

“Being a woman in power shouldn’t mean you distance yourself from your womanhood,” said Levy. Being powerful and being a woman. “That’s having it all.”

Diane Lefer is an author, playwright, and activist. Her latest books include The Blessing Next to the Wound, nonfiction co-authored with Colombian exile Hector Aristizabal, and the crime novel, Nobody Wakes Up Pretty, from Rainstorm Press, which Edgar Award winner Domenic Stansberry describes as “sifting the ashes of America’s endless class warfare.” Lefer writes for LA Progressive (where this article originally appeared), and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.

0 Comments to “Power of Women”

  1. Whether it should look peculiar if less than 50% of the people in a room are women depends on the room. Equality of respect does not equate with sameness or even equality of opportunity when there are so many traditional male “opportunities” that no one in their right mind should want.

    If there are roles or behaviors that men engage in that men shouldn’t engage in, then it benefits nobody to allow or encourage women to do the same (such as join the military or even corporate board rooms).

    More men then women are killed by both sexes. Violence is a social problem, not a men’s problem or a women’s problem.

    Most of the income discrepancy is due to women’s (more sensible) choices about balancing home, family, work and leisure. Men should learn from women on this, rather than insist that women burn themselves out at work like men in order to earn as much.

    There are many kinds of power, and some are best used indirectly rather than in frontal assault. Traditionally, women have been more clever about using power discreetly. Putting everyone on the font lines does not necessarily make for a better functioning society.

    If, as with most indigenous cultures, we could learn to respect all social roles and responsibilities, then perhaps women would not feel the need to assume traditionally male roles, most of which are self-denying, excessively demanding, and result in a shorter life span and higher rates of suicide.


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