Uncommon Women...That's Us
"On Friendship Amongst Women"
By Gale Berkowitz
A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special.
They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our
tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and
help us remember who we really are.
By the way, they may do even more. Scientists now suspect that hanging
out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of
stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A
landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a
cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain
friendships with other women. It's a stunning find that has turned five
decades of stress research--most of it on men--upside down.
Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when
people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the
body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible, explains
Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Bio-behavioral
Health at Penn State University and one of the study's authors. It's an
ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased
across the planet by saber-toothed tigers.
Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral
repertoire than just fight or flight; in fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems
that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress
responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and
encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead.
When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies
suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress
and produces a calming effect.
This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because
testosterone---which men produce in high levels when they're under
stress---seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen; she adds,
seems to enhance it.
The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was
made in a classic "aha" moment shared by two women scientists who were
talking one day in a lab at UCLA. There was this joke that when the
women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the
lab, had coffee, and bonded, says Dr. Klein. When the men were
stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to
fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research
is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew
instantly that we were onto something.
The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one
scientist after another from various research specialties. Very
quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women
in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake: The fact that
women respond to stress differently than men has significant
implications for our health.
It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that
oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other
women, but the "tend and befriend" notion developed by Drs. Klein and
Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after
study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering
blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.
There's no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live
longer. In one study, for example, researchers found that people who
had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In
another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut
their risk of death by more than 60%. Friends are also helping us live
The Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more
friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical
impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a
joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers
concluded, that not having close friends or confidantes was as
detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight!
And that's not all! When the researchers looked at how well the women
functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the
face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close
friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience
without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality.
Those without friends were not always so fortunate.
Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of
our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our
life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That's a question
that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of
/Best// //Friends:// //The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's
Friendships/ (Three Rivers Press, 1998).
Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we
do is let go of friendships with other women, explains Dr. Josselson.
We push them right to the back burner. That's really a mistake because
women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one
another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the
special kind of talk that women do when they're with other women. It's
a very healing experience.
Yes to the sisterhood! Gotta love our women friends! Om Shanti!
My Favorite August
By GAIL COLLINS
The story in American history I most like to tell is the one about how women got the right to vote 90 years ago this month. It has everything. Adventure! Suspense! Treachery! Drunken legislators! But, first, there was a 70-year slog.
Which is really the important part. We always need to remember that behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time.
That great suffragist and excellent counter, Carrie Chapman Catt, estimated that the struggle had involved 56 referendum campaigns directed at male voters, plus “480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47 campaigns to get constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks, 30 campaigns to get presidential party campaigns to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.”
And you thought health care reform was a drawn-out battle.
The great, thundering roadblock to progress was — wait for the surprise — the U.S. Senate. All through the last part of the 19th century and into the 20th, attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution ran up against a wall of conservative Southern senators. So the women decided to win the vote by amending every single state constitution, one by one.
There were five referenda in South Dakota alone. Susan B. Anthony spent more time there than a wheat farmer. But she never lost hope. The great day was coming, she promised: “It’s coming sooner than most people think.” I love this remark even more because she made it in 1895.
Sometimes I fantasize about traveling back through time and telling my historical heroes and heroines how well things worked out in the end. I particularly enjoy the part where I find Vincent van Gogh and inform him that one of the unsold paintings piled up over in the corner will eventually go for $80 million. But I never imagine telling Susan B. Anthony how well American women are doing in the 21st century because her faith in her country and her cause was so strong that she wouldn’t be surprised.
The constitutional amendment that finally did pass Congress bore Anthony’s name. It came up before the House of Representatives in 1918 with the two-thirds votes needed for passage barely within reach. One congressman who had been in the hospital for six months had himself carted to the floor so he could support suffrage. Another, who had just broken his shoulder, refused to have it set for fear he’d be too late to be counted. Representative Frederick Hicks of New York had been at the bedside of his dying wife but left at her urging to support the cause. He provided the final, crucial vote, and then returned home for her funeral.
The Senate failed to follow suit. But Woodrow Wilson, a president who had the winning quality of being very vulnerable to nagging by women, pushed the amendment through the next year. The states started ratifying. Then things stalled just one state short of success.
Ninety years ago this month, all eyes turned to Tennessee, the only state yet to ratify with its Legislature still in session. The resolution sailed through the Tennessee Senate. As it moved on to the House, the most vigorous opposition came from the liquor industry, which was pretty sure that if women got the vote, they’d use it to pass Prohibition. Distillery lobbyists came to fight, bearing samples.
“Both suffrage and anti-suffrage men were reeling through the hall in an advanced state of intoxication,” Carrie Catt reported.
The women and their allies knew they had a one-vote margin of support in the House. Then the speaker, whom they had counted on as a “yes,” changed his mind.
(I love this moment. Women’s suffrage is tied to the railroad track and the train is bearing down fast when suddenly. ...) Suddenly, Harry Burn, the youngest member of the House, a 24-year-old “no” vote from East Tennessee, got up and announced that he had received a letter from his mother telling him to “be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt.” “I know that a mother’s advice is always the safest for a boy to follow,” Burn said, switching sides.
We celebrate Women’s Suffrage Day on Aug. 26, which is when the amendment officially became part of the Constitution. But I like Aug. 18, which is the day that Harry Burn jumped up in the Tennessee Legislature, waving his mom’s note from home. I told the story once in Atlanta, and a woman in the audience said that when she was visiting her relatives in East Tennessee, she had gone to put a yellow rose on Harry Burn’s grave. got a little teary. “Well, actually,” she added, “it was because I couldn’t find his mother.”
Suzan-Lori Parks was the commencement speaker at Mount Holyoke in 2001. She graduated from MHC back in 1985. This speech is still referred to and talked about on campus and is timeless advice and well worth a read. Here's the link to see for yourself. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/news/stories/5683067
Memorable Commencement Address
You may have heard that there are going to be 20 women in the Senate next year. I’ve been trying to figure out what that means.
Well, it means one-fifth. Whoop-di-do. Still, up to now there have only been 39 women senators in all of American history. In 2001, the entire female caucus published a book about their experiences called “Nine and Counting.”
So I say, look on the bright side. In the House, 78 women were just elected. True, that’s still under 20 percent. Nevertheless, when it comes to the proportion of women in the lower chamber of its national legislature, next year the United States is almost certainly going to soar past the United Arab Emirates and possibly even Indonesia.
Feel free to blame the Republicans. After the elections, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, pointed out that next session most of the Democratic members will be something other than white men. The Democrats named Representative Nita Lowey of New York the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, the chamber’s historic Alpha Dog Central. Meanwhile, over on the Republican side, Speaker John Boehner announced a list of new committee chairs that was entirely, um, pale male. After the ensuing outcry, he stuck Representative Candice Miller of Michigan in a vacant top post on the House Administration Committee, a panel she had never served on.
“In her new post, Candice will provide the leadership needed to keep operating costs down, save taxpayer dollars, and help lawmakers use new technology to better engage with their constituents,” said Boehner.
Having any committee chairmanship is better than not having one. But I believe I speak on behalf of many American women when I say: oh good grief.
But let’s cheerfully return to the fact that there are going to be more women in Congress. What does it mean? These days, the answers are mainly about interpersonal relations more than any particular issue. “It’s not that they’re going to agree on everything,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. “I think in some ways, it will be about: Will they talk to each other and work with each other on some things and at least be able to communicate with each other?”
She’s right, and while sociability is a pretty low bar, this is the Washington in which everyone complains that bipartisan dinner parties are a thing of the past. The Senate women most definitely dine together. Regularly, in the Capitol, in a room named after the late Strom Thurmond, an infamous pincher of ladies’ bottoms.
“I know, the irony,” said Olympia Snowe, Republican from Maine.
But about the issues. There are plenty of veterans who remember the days when women banded together in bipartisan battles on behalf of their sex. Lowey pointed to a fight to get the National Institutes of Health to study women as well as men when it did clinical trials. (“Even the lab rats were male.”)
Now, not so much. Barely at all, as a matter of fact. The House women’s caucus did hold some hearings on the question of pay parity, but it never took a position on what to do to reduce the wage gap between male and female workers, since the Democratic and Republican co-chairs don’t agree on actual bill proposals.
One of the reasons is the dwindling band of moderate, pro-choice Republican women. Diversity is always a good thing — if you’ve got to have a Tea Party, I’d rather not have an all-male one. But a female lawmaker who opposes giving poor women access to family planning services is not really playing for the team.
In the Senate, the small band of Republican women has included influential moderates like Snowe; Susan Collins, also of Maine; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was forced to run as a write-in when a Tea Party candidate swiped the Republican nomination. “Any time I’ve been successful I’ve had a woman Republican helping me on the other side of the aisle,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The other day Gillibrand proudly noted that every woman in the Senate had supported an amendment to the defense bill she’d sponsored, despite Republican opposition. In the current session, she said, “I think it’s the first thing we all voted on.”
The amendment would expand treatment for the autistic children of members of the military. Really, folks, you would not think rallying around that one would be all that hard. But once again, we’re going to celebrate the clearing of a bar rather than pointing out that it’s kind of low.
And all but one of the current 17 women voted in favor of ratifying the United Nations treaty on the disabled. Although the Senate being the Senate, the treaty failed.
TWENTY AND COUNTING
By Gail Collins
She’s (Rarely) the Boss
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It’s the annual conclave of the presumed powerful, the World Economic Forum in Davos, with the wealthy flying in on private jets to discuss issues like global poverty. As always, it’s a sea of men. This year, female participation is 17 percent.
Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering that global business and political leaders are overwhelmingly male. In America, only 17 percent of American Fortune 500 board seats are held by women, a mere 3 percent of board chairs are women — and women are barely represented in President Obama’s cabinet. Indeed, I’m guessing that the average boardroom doesn’t have much better gender equality than a team of cave hunters attacking a woolly mammoth 30,000 years ago.
So what gives? A provocative answer comes from Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, who has written a smart book due out in March that attributes the gender gap, in part, to chauvinism and corporate obstacles — but also, in part, to women who don’t aggressively pursue opportunities.
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” Sandberg writes in the book, called “Lean In.” “We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.”
Sandberg and I discussed the issue on a panel here in Davos, and I think that there is something real and important in what she says. When I lecture at universities, the first questions are invariably asked by a man — even at a women’s college. When I point at someone in a crowd to ask a question, the women in the area almost always look at each other hesitantly — and any man in the vicinity jumps up and asks his question.
A McKinsey survey published in April found that 36 percent of male employees at major companies aspired to be top executives, compared with 18 percent of the women. A study of Carnegie Mellon M.B.A. graduates in 2003 found that 57 percent of the men, but only 7 percent of the women, tried to negotiate a higher initial salary offer.
Sandberg, one of the most prominent women in corporate America, is not known as a shrinking violet. She confesses that when she was in elementary school, she trained her younger brother and sister to follow her around, listen to her give speeches and periodically shout: “Right!” Yet she acknowledges that she has harbored many insecurities, sometimes shedding tears at the office, as well as doubts about her juggling of work and family.
When she joined Facebook as its No. 2, she was initially willing to accept the first offer from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder. She writes that her husband and brother-in-law hounded her to demand more, so she did — and got a better deal. “I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto,” Sandberg writes. “And I am hoping that each man will do his part to support women in the workplace and in the home, also with gusto.”
Yet I wish that there could be two versions of Sandberg’s book. One marketed to young women would encourage them to be more assertive. One marketed to men (and women already in leadership) would emphasize the need for structural changes to accommodate women and families. Is Sandberg blaming the victim? I don’t think so, but I also don’t want to relax the pressure on employers to do a much better job of recruiting and promoting women.
Nature and social mores together make motherhood more all-consuming than fatherhood, yet the modern job was built for a distracted father. That’s not great for dads and can be just about impossible for moms — at least those who don’t have great wealth or extraordinary spouses. Sandberg famously leaves the office at 5:30 most days to be with her kids, but not many women (or men) would dare try that.
Some people believe that women are more nurturing bosses, or that they offer more support to women below them. I’m skeptical. Women can be jerks as much as men. But we need more women in leadership positions for another reason: considerable evidence suggests that more diverse groups reach better decisions. Corporations should promote women not just out of fairness, but also because it helps them perform better. Lehman Brothers might still be around today if it were Lehman Brothers & Sisters.
So, yes, let’s encourage young women to “lean in,” but let’s also change the workplace so that when they do lean in and assert themselves, we’re directly behind them shouting: “Right!”
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
WHEN Julia Geist was asked to draw a picture of a computer scientist last year, the 16-year-old sketched a businessman wearing glasses and a tie. Looking around at her classmates’ drawings, she saw similar depictions of men.
Now, Ms. Geist said, “I see a computer scientist could be anyone” — including herself.
Her new perspective is a victory for Girls Who Code. As part of an eight-week program with the Manhattan-based nonprofit group, Ms. Geist and 19 other high school girls learned software programming, public speaking, product development and other skills to prepare them for jobs in the technology industry.
Girls Who Code is among the recent crop of programs intended to close the gender gap in tech by intervening early, when young women are deciding what they want to study. With names like Hackbright Academy, Girl Develop It, Black Girls Code and Girls Teaching Girls to Code, these groups try to present a more exciting image of computer science.
The paucity of women in the tech industry has been well documented. Even though women represent more than half the overall work force, they hold less than a quarter of computing and technical jobs, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology based at the University of Colorado, Boulder. At the executive and founder levels, women are even scarcer.
A variety of advocacy and networking groups have tried to address the problem by coaching women on building start-ups, raising venture capital and climbing the management ranks at big companies. Most recently, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, published a best-selling book, “Lean In,” that was a call to arms for women to pursue their ambition in the workplace.
Even so, the number of women entering technology has been declining. Women earn just 12 percent of computer science degrees, down from 37 percent in 1984. Tech executives, recruiters and financiers say women simply do not walk through their doors seeking work.
“We actively recruit women, but there’s just not that many women who want to do this kind of work and are equipped to do the work from their education,” said Adam Messinger, the chief technology officer at Twitter, who is on the board of Girls Who Code.
So the industry is trying a new approach. It is tackling the problem long before women start their careers, by teaching girls the basic skill of writing code.
“We have to get women on the right side of the computer,” said Margit Wennmachers, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. Knowing a programming language is becoming essential not just for engineers, she added, but also for women who want to be tech executives or deal-makers or pursue other careers, from medicine to fashion.
“The dividing line is learning to code,” Ms. Wennmachers said. “You either tell the computer what to do and you’ve got lots of great career options. Or the computer tells you what to do and you end up working in a shoe store.”
Groups like Girls Who Code are part of a national movement to recruit young people to software development and remain competitive with other economies. A new group, code.org, for example, has people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Bill Gates of Microsoft pushing for all schools to teach children to code.
But the need is most urgent for girls, said Reshma Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code last year. Roughly 74 percent of girls in middle school express an interest in engineering, science and math, she said. But by the time they get to college, just 0.3 percent choose computer science as a major.
Ms. Saujani, the daughter of two engineers who were refugees from Uganda, developed the idea while she was running for Congress, a race that she lost. As she traveled from school to school on the campaign trail, she said she saw the same thing over and over: computer science classrooms without a single girl.
“I saw the ability of technology to either enhance poverty or reduce it, and I saw girls not getting the same opportunities boys were,” said Ms. Saujani, who is now campaigning for public advocate in New York City. “Back in the ’60s, you didn’t have gender parity in law or medicine, but something happened and women started opting into these professions. We have to do that in computer science.”
Researchers say many factors contribute to girls’ reluctance to pursue computing as early as elementary school, including discouraging parents, inadequate resources for teachers and a lack of exposure. Studies have shown that girls imagine computer scientists as men working alone in a basement and can’t relate.
It’s a significant disconnect, given how women embrace technology. Female consumers make up a majority of users for many tech products. For technology companies, women also offer a diverse perspective, which can help bolster the bottom line.
“Being a software developer gives you a lot of insight into the world and business and gives you a lot of career opportunities,” said Sara J. Chipps, the co-founder of Girl Develop It, and the chief technology officer of Levo League, a Web start-up for professional women.
After hatching the idea for Girls Who Code, Ms. Saujani and Kristen Titus, its executive director, started going to tech companies and asking what skills they wanted in female applicants. Mr. Messinger at Twitter, for instance, said he wanted to see more candidates who knew how to break a problem into parts and describe it in logic terms, which was incorporated into the program’s curriculum.
The response from companies was encouraging. The group raised money from Google, Twitter, Intel and other technology companies. Some also agreed to host workshops for Girls Who Code at their offices and volunteered employees to teach courses.
To develop the classes, the women recruited academics and people who worked in tech to design the curriculum, which includes topics like robotics, animation and mobile app development, as well as skills like introducing yourself in a business setting and presenting your product onstage. By Week 2, students learn what an algorithm is and how to write one to program a robot. By Week 5, they build their own mobile apps.
Then there are the intangibles, like eating in the Twitter cafeteria, pitching the apps the students built to Twitter’s engineering team and listening to notable female executives talk about what it was like to be the only girl in their computer science classes. Last year, so many girls said they wanted to become forensic scientists — as in the hit television show “C.S.I.” — that the group took a field trip to the New York Police Department to see how they used computers.
Nikita Rau, 17, another Girls Who Code graduate, said seeing female programmers on field trips taught her that anyone could be a coder. At big companies like Google and small ones like Foursquare, she said she was inspired by seeing successful women, and engineering problems scrawled on white boards — not to mention “the amazing food.”
“As we walked through Facebook and Twitter, I could imagine myself sitting there coding throughout the day,” she said. “I’m not afraid to be one of the first girls to go into one of those fields. I want to pursue this career and maybe be a C.E.O. of a company.”
Girls Who Code is still in its infancy. In 2012, it taught 20 girls in New York. This summer, the program will accept 160 girls in New York, San Francisco and Detroit. The group is packaging its curriculum so schools and community organizations can teach it, too.
Girls Who Code is already showing signs of progress.
In March, it hosted a recruiting event at Google’s New York office for 200 girls, parents and teachers. Last year’s graduates showed off the apps and Web sites they built and attendees were treated to Google’s famous perks, including a demo of its Internet-connected glasses and a spread of beef sliders and chicken fingers.
Ms. Geist, the high school student who had never taken a computer science course, built an app for finding people with similar interests on Twitter. Now, she has signed up for the only computing courses in her public high school and wants to study computer science and physics in college. She even persuaded her father, a part-time custodian, to take a programming class.
“I guess I was just doing what my friends were doing, and none of the girls wanted to do computer science because it was mostly just guys,” Ms. Geist said. “But I don’t really care about that now. I love computer science.”
OPENING A GATEWAY FOR GIRLS TO ENTER THE COMPUTER FIELD.
New York Times
To the Editor:
More than 50 years ago, I entered Mount Holyoke College with neither a clear idea of a major field of study nor a career. After all, this was pre-Betty Friedan and the feminist revolution. I did have some vague idea that college would be pleasurable in its own right and might help me raise better children.
Economics, my eventual major, was a social science at that time. It did not require any statistics or other hard courses that might be useful in the business world. I chose it because it interested me, the department was small, and I might get noticed by the professors there. English, however, the largest department on campus, was where my heart was. My fondest memories of college are of the afternoons I sat curled up in a wing chair on the top floor of Williston Library reading Victorian novels and marveling in the fact that I was getting college credit for such a deliciously enjoyable activity.
Forwarding to my post-graduation experience, I could not get hired by any of the banks or insurance companies in Philadelphia, economics major or not. They were not interested in hiring women. I did get a job based on my English studies, though. A pharmaceutical company hired me to write letters in its public relations department. So my humanities courses got me hired. My economics courses did not.
Am I a better, more thoughtful person for all the humanities courses I took? Who knows? I do know that my joy in reading is one of the lasting personal benefits of the studies I undertook so many years ago.
New York, June 21, 2013■
Where Credit Is Due
By GAIL COLLINS
A few months ago, a saleswoman at Macy’s tried to wheedle me into renewing my expired store credit card by offering a deep discount on the towels I was buying. So I dug it out of my wallet, where it was nestled between an expired press pass to the Texas State Capitol and an expired library card from Manchester, N.H., and happily handed it over.
She looked at it, puzzled. “But this isn’t your name,” she said. The card said Daniel Collins. That’s my husband, who I believe has never been to Macy’s, or bought a towel, in his entire life.
I flashed back to a moment when I was living in Connecticut. I have no idea what year it was, except that it is very possible Richard Nixon was still president. I was in the Macy’s in New Haven when a woman with a clipboard came up to me and asked me if I wanted to apply for a credit card. “Absolutely,” I said instantly.
She took up her pen. “What’s your husband’s name?” she asked. I wish I could tell you that I made a speech about equal rights and headed for the door, but I just let her fill out my application. This was an era when women still needed a male co-signer to get credit. In some places, you needed a husband or father to even get a library card.
Anyway, I was proud of being newly married and dumb about the women’s movement. I worked as a reporter in the Connecticut State Capitol, where the male legislators and male lobbyists and male reporters met in a place called the Hawaiian Room to drink. When a female journalist demanded that she be admitted, too, the media was barred completely. The guys in the press room blamed it all on the one woman, who, I am sorry to say, was not me. My only reaction was to wonder why anyone would want to go to the Hawaiian Room, which was in the attic, with steam pipes along the ceiling festooned with limp plastic leis.
I’m telling you all this because on Monday we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote. That was in 1920, and there’s no longer anyone around who can tell us what that felt like to be disenfranchised because of your sex. But there are plenty of people who recall the time when women couldn’t get credit in their own name.
Next year, if we’re in the mood, we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of the day that Kathryn Kirschbaum, then the mayor of Davenport, Iowa, was told she could not have a Bank of America card without her husband’s signature.
The great thing about Equality Day is that it works in two ways. We can mull both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. The one thought feeds the other. The idea of having 50 women in the U.S. Senate, or 250 female C.E.O.’s in the Fortune 500 seems less far-reaching if you contemplate the fact that in the 1960s, a spokesman for NASA said “talk of an American spacewoman makes me sick to my stomach.” Now, one of the two American astronauts on the International Space Station is a woman, and that is so routine that we’re not even aware of her name. (It’s Karen Nyberg.)
Monday is also the anniversary of the 1970 women’s march for equality in New York, which almost no one expected to be a very big deal. The New York Police Department had only given the marchers permission to use one lane of Fifth Avenue. “Then more people came and more people came and we spilled over, and we took over the entire avenue,” recalled Robin Morgan, the feminist author and activist. “And that was the moment your heart really sang. People were hanging out windows. I kept yelling: ‘Join us!’ ” And some of them, Morgan said, did just that.
Parades are great. For a long time, the drive for suffrage was seen as a depressing slog of petition-gathering by middle-class clubwomen. Then the parades started, and the movement belonged to everyone.
“We did not eat our little lunches in lobster palaces, but out in the street in front of lobster palaces. We stand for plain living and high thinking, that’s it,” a marcher told The New York Times during the equality parade in 1912.
That comment does seem a tad reverse-snobby, but the mixture of socialites and factory workers, marching for one cause, sent a message. It also sounds as though it was a lot of fun. After the march ended, a woman The Times identified as “Miss Annie S. Peck, the mountain climber,” stood on a chair, “waved a Joan of Arc flag, and told her audience that this was the banner that she had planted 21,000 feet above the sea on one of the highest peaks of the Andes.”
There don’t seem to be a lot of parades planned for Monday, which is probably all for the best. Once a parade becomes an annual institution, it becomes less about a political point and more about the afterparties. But we are going to have one heck of a time in 2020.
YEARS ago, while producing the hit TV series “The Shield,” Glen Mazzara noticed that two young female writers were quiet during story meetings. He pulled them aside and encouraged them to speak up more. Watch what happens when we do, they replied. Almost every time they started to speak, they were interrupted or shot down before finishing their pitch. When one had a good idea, a male writer would jump in and run with it before she could complete her thought.
Sadly, their experience is not unusual. We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.
Some new studies support our observations. A study by a Yale psychologist, Victoria L. Brescoll, found that male senators with more power (as measured by tenure, leadership positions and track record of legislation passed) spoke more on the Senate floor than their junior colleagues. But for female senators, power was not linked to significantly more speaking time.
Suspecting that powerful women stayed quiet because they feared a backlash, Professor Brescoll looked deeper. She asked professional men and women to evaluate the competence of chief executives who voiced their opinions more or less frequently. Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings. As this and other research shows, women who worry that talking “too much” will cause them to be disliked are not paranoid; they are often right.
One of us, Adam, was dismayed to find similar patterns when studying a health care company and advising an international bank. When male employees contributed ideas that brought in new revenue, they got significantly higher performance evaluations. But female employees who spoke up with equally valuable ideas did not improve their managers’ perception of their performance. Also, the more the men spoke up, the more helpful their managers believed them to be. But when women spoke up more, there was no increase in their perceived helpfulness.
This speaking-up double bind harms organizations by depriving them of valuable ideas. A University of Texas researcher, Ethan Burris, conducted an experiment in which he asked teams to make strategic decisions for a bookstore. He randomly informed one member that the bookstore’s inventory system was flawed and gave that person data about a better approach. In subsequent analyses, he found that when women challenged the old system and suggested a new one, team leaders viewed them as less loyal and were less likely to act on their suggestions. Even when all team members were informed that one member possessed unique information that would benefit the group, suggestions from women with inside knowledge were discounted.
Obviously, businesses need to find ways to interrupt this gender bias. Just as orchestras that use blind auditions increase the number of women who are selected, organizations can increase women’s contributions by adopting practices that focus less on the speaker and more on the idea. For example, in innovation tournaments, employees submit suggestions and solutions to problems anonymously. Experts evaluate the proposals, give feedback to all participants and then implement the best plans.
SINCE most work cannot be done anonymously, leaders must also take steps to encourage women to speak and be heard. At “The Shield,” Mr. Mazzara, the show runner, found a clever way to change the dynamics that were holding those two female employees back. He announced to the writers that he was instituting a no-interruption rule while anyone — male or female — was pitching. It worked, and he later observed that it made the entire team more effective
The long-term solution to the double bind of speaking while female is to increase the number of women in leadership roles. (As we noted in our previous article, research shows that when it comes to leadership skills, although men are more confident, women are more competent.) As more women enter the upper echelons of organizations, people become more accustomed to women’s contributing and leading. Professor Burris and his colleagues studied a credit union where women made up 74 percent of supervisors and 84 percent of front-line employees. Sure enough, when women spoke up there, they were more likely to be heard than men. When President Obama held his last news conference of 2014, he called on eight reporters — all women. It made headlines worldwide. Had a politician given only men a chance to ask questions, it would not have been news; it would have been a regular day.
As 2015 starts, we wonder what would happen if we all held Obama-style meetings, offering women the floor whenever possible. Doing this for even a day or two might be a powerful bias interrupter, demonstrating to our teams and colleagues that speaking while female is still quite difficult. We’re going to try it to see what we learn. We hope you will, too — and then share your experiences with us all on Facebook or in the comments section.
SPEAKING WHILE FEMALE
New York Times - Jan 12, 2015
“She’s so strong,” the little girl seated next to me at a Brooklyn screening of “Wonder Woman” kept repeating to her mother, occasionally shielding her eyes. It was the first fight scene of the movie, and I was trying not to sob.
Half an hour earlier, I’d been contemplating skipping the film. I never read the comics. I wasn’t a superfan. The last action movie I saw was “Batman,” the remake before the remake, in my parents’ living room with my younger brothers, sometime in the mid- to late 1990s.
But 20 minutes into “Wonder Woman,” the director Patty Jenkins’s take on the iconic DC Comics story, the tears came uncontrollably — as the Amazonian women twirled and glided, fierce and muscular and graceful at once, engaged in battle moves that looked as if they were choreographed for women’s bodies (which, it turned out, they were). I mean, the outfits were a little absurd. Their gladiator sandals seemed to have wedges. And yet, much like Jill Lepore, the author of “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” put it in The New Yorker: “I am not proud that I found comfort in watching a woman in a golden tiara and thigh-high boots clobber hordes of terrible men. But I did.”
In fact, I was proud. So were legions of women I know who took daughters, nieces, nephews, mentees or simply went in droves, some of them to women-only screenings — and walked out of theaters with a strange feeling of ferociousness. One friend immediately purchased 40 tickets for a group of girls she mentors, along with all their friends. A group of women writers has raised more than $7,000 in a GoFundMe campaign to send New York City girls to see the film.
“I was kind of taken aback at how something as minor as a movie has been affecting me,” said Ruth Wilner, 45, who saw the film with her husband in Sacramento. “I wish I could go back in time and watch it with 8-year-old me.”
Indeed, there was something deeply visceral about it: a depiction of a hero we never knew we needed, a hero whose gender was everything but also nothing. Yes, she was a female superhero — the kind that could inspire girls to dress up and play make believe and appoint themselves Amazonian gods. But she was also just a superhero. A superhero who happened to be a woman. As Ms. Jenkins said in an interview with The Times, “I wasn’t directing a woman, I was just directing a hero.”
George Orwell once argued that clichéd language produces clichéd thinking. The same could be said of visual storytelling — which brain researchers will tell you is processed tens of thousands of times faster than the written word. And yet so much of the messaging we receive about who can do what in the world is subliminal — the absence of what’s missing more even than what is there. Sometimes it is the lack of voices, of speaking roles, of perspectives. The invisibility of certain types of characters. It appears in film and advertising and media and music and action films and video games and stock photos. Sometimes, a lot of times, we don’t even notice it until it is upended. We’ve grown accustomed to the largely white, largely male default.
But then suddenly you’re a 35-year-old woman sitting in a theater and you see the thing that was missing — the boss, the doctor, the president or the righteous superhero who happens to be a woman — and something clicks. Oh, this is what people mean when they talk about representation. This is why it matters.
It will come as a surprise to no one that the industry is stacked. According to research by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 81 percent of working characters in 21 G-rated films released from September 2006 to September 2009 — that is, characters with jobs — are male. Male characters are more likely to be depicted in medical science, business, law or politics (you know, all those industries where we need more women).
Speaking roles are no better. Women fill less than a third in films across the world, according to review of the 700 top‐grossing films from 2007 to 2014 conducted by the University of Southern California. Even Disney princesses don’t get to be the main speaking characters in their own films. In “Frozen,” male characters spoke 59 percent of the lines. By one tally, the total speaking time for female characters in “Star Wars” who are not named Princess Leia is 63 seconds. Total.
I can’t say I even noticed Princess Leia said so little, at least not when I was a kid. To me that was simply normal.
But you know that saying about how “you can’t be what you can’t see” — or, perhaps more accurately, that you can be what you can see? It’s meant to make the point that women and people of color and gay people and trans people and disabled people and gender nonconforming people need to see people who look like them; it’s the idea that role models, such as a black president or a Latina Supreme Court justice, or a black female director or an Israeli female superhero, in fact matter.
“The more media a girl consumes, the fewer options she thinks she has in life,” I heard Geena Davis say onstage a few years ago, speaking at a women’s conference. As Ms. Davis later told The Guardian, “People can be inspired or limited by what they see.”
According to research by Ms. Davis’s institute, even seeing a fictional female president on television made people more likely to vote for a female president.
“Anytime we see women in powerful roles on-screen it challenges narrowly defined and antiquated views of leadership,” said Stacy L. Smith, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, whose research focuses on diversity in media. “Whether women are serving as C.E.O.s or, in the case of Wonder Woman, striding across ‘No Man’s Land’ and taking enemy fire, it broadens our notions of who a leader can be and the traits they exemplify.”
No, we don’t want girls to strive only to be superheros. But we do want them to believe they have the strength to be one if they could.
Wonder Woman's Real Power
by Jessica Bennett
NYTimes - June 6, 2017