In 2005, the women of Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first female president of an African nation, and we can learn a lot by examining how they did it. In a recent article for the New York Times, Helene Cooper, a reporter who grew up in Liberia before immigrating to the United States in 1980, tells the story of how Liberian women got Sirleaf elected, highlighting valuable lessons for American women.
I love Spain and have spent a lot of time there for work and leisure travel. I was, therefore, particularly interested in an article by Raphael Minder in the New York Times reporting that women in Spain have achieved greater parity in their national parliament, the Cortes Generales, than we have made in the US Congress. Women make up 40 percent of the Spanish Cortes while, according to the Rutgers Center for Women in Politics, women hold only 19.4 percent of all seats in the US Congress.
Many of my female coaching clients are told in their performance feedback that they need to be “less emotional” and to “smile more.” This feedback occurs so often that my colleagues and I joke about it when we talk about the unfair feedback that our female clients receive.
The spectacle of Senator Elizabeth Warren being silenced by a man in a male-dominated organization—in this case on the floor of the US Senate—was very familiar to many women. And then, as is typical, four men stood up and read aloud the same letter she had been reading—they were not silenced.
What a delight to read about Caroline Kennedy’s successful tenure as the United States Ambassador to Japan! As reported by Moroko Rich in the New York Times, Caroline Kennedy, who was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama, was the first woman to hold the post in Japan, a traditionally male-dominated society. While mocked unfairly by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, she was, in fact, a trusted and respected diplomat who managed relations well with one of our most important allies. In addition, she built strong relationships in government and business communities as well as with the broader public.
I am the dominant earner in my household. My wonderful life partner/spouse of 25 years is a talented artist. I am a successful consultant, and consultants generally make more than artists in our society. My life partner and I have always been fine with our financial relationship, but I remember when his father was still alive and would yell into the phone from the background, “Tell that bum to get a job!” He could not stand it that I made more money than his son. This lack of moral support was very painful for us both, especially for my partner. We were trying to stay grounded in the choices that made sense for us in the face of societal attitudes about acceptable gender roles—and this was sometimes difficult.
I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services.
Misogyny is a difficult and important concept to understand if we are to grasp many of the challenges that women face in politics and in the workplace. One source of confusion is that misogyny is actually an umbrella term that encompasses multiple concepts such as sexism, patriarchy, gender-based oppression, and internalized oppression. Both women and men participate in perpetuating the misogynistic attitudes, behaviors, and practices motivated by hatred or distrust of women. Such concepts are largely unconscious in individuals and often institutionalized in the policies and practices of organizations and societal institutions. I wrote about some post-election examples of misogynistic behaviors in a recent article.
Decades of research show that women make a difference in elected office. Women do govern differently, yet we are losing representation in the United States. Claire Cain Miller, writing for the New York Times, reports these results of the November 2016 election:
- The number of female governors dropped from six to five.
- The number of women in Congress stayed the same at 104, or 19 percent of the seats in the House and Senate. One seat was gained in the Senate and one lost in the House.
- Thirteen states will send no women to the new 115th Congress.
Women in the United States struggled many years to win the right to vote, and we still have not been able to win the presidency. At least fifty-two other countries in the world have had a female head of state—some countries multiple times—but we have not. Hillary Clinton’s recent run was not successful, but she took us one more step along a very long journey for women in the United States.