Mama Grizzlies or Grizzly Mamas?

   Meg Whitman tapped as the Republican nominee for Governor, Republican Carly Fiorina to challenge Barbara Boxer for her Senate seat, and Republican  Nikki Haley possibly becoming the first non-white female governor of South Carolina.  All Sarah Palin endorsed mama grizzlies. Or are they grizzly mamas?

 It’s great to see women running for public office and winning support. The good news is that these women are restoring a broken link between women and leadership. But what kind of leaders are they? Do they represent an uplifting female model that restores the link that feminine skills like inclusion, empathy, collaboration, relational skills, care, responsibility are powerful, rather than touchy-feely? Or are they Amazons, women who have disconnected from their feminine side in order to be successful, like the mythical Amazon women who cut their breast off to be better archers and warriors?

  I’m sure that all these women have had their hard knocks to get where they are. But did they get hard in the process?  Given their successes, they certainly know how to play the game, but are they willing to change the game? It’s hard to gage what their leadership style is, in part, because the media is usually so unfair to women so you have to question if they are being slammed. Yet looking at past performance, aside from being female, there doesn’t seem to be anything different in their leadership than what we have been getting from privileged white men.

Carly is guilty of excesses of outsourcing, engaging in the hubris of a merger and acquisition with Compaq that failed to produce as most M&As do, and of laying off lots of people for the bottom line but willing to take 20 mill  in a severance package for herself when she was fired from the HP. Meg fell for the worst political habit of the wealthy that undermines democracy, buying her bid for office, much like Romney and Perot, and managed to spend more money on her campaign than any other run for governor. And if you are connected to your feminine side, you are connected to Nature and you would never say “create jobs, curb environmental regulations,” which is what Meg said. Nikki Haley doesn’t have much of a track record but shhe does oppose health care reform although she did call her party in state government to task by demanding their voting record be transparent, so everyone could see what kind of perks they were voting for themselves.   

     We’ll see what happens but being a CEO and a public servant are two very different hats.  Business sector should be only one sector of consideration, not the only one and it’s dubious if these women make that distinction.  Will these conservative women who are pitching to tighten government make life harder for working moms by cutting away at child care, health care, elder care, after-school care?  Are they mama grizzlies who will fight for women/children-friendly policies or are they grizzly mamas who perpetuate a system that historically subordinates women and undermines women’s economic growth and advancement?


Kagan: Are you Experienced?

Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced?  sung in Hendrix’s smoky voice, keeps floating around in my head when I think of Elena Kagan. Huh? Well, the old “are you experienced” argument is being flung out there against her. Excuse me? The first female dean of Harvard Law School is inexperienced?  

So what’s behind the inexperienced argument?   Virginia Valiant’s work on gender schemas, that is unconscious assumption we make about men and women, sheds some light. One assumption is that women are first assumed incompetent until proven otherwise, and the opposite holds true for men, So right off the bat women are fighting a battle they don’t even know they are fighting, They are not seen as leaders until they can do what Ginger Rogers did;  do everything a man does except in high heels and backwards. The experience issue is just a façade, masking a bias against Kagan because she is a woman and as a woman she is first assumed incompetent.  

 Iron Butterfly Kim Campbell and ex-prime minister of Canada had the same problem. When she became her party’s leader, they called her a rookie. She had her assistant calculate how much cabinet experience the previous prime ministers had. Out of 18, only 8 had more experience than Kim. As she told me, “It drove me nuts!”

 The interesting thing is that women also hold this unconscious bias. So it won’t be surprising to see women also question her experience. Let’s not do that sisters and brothers! Let’s be conscious of the assumptions we bring to the table!

 Kagan is experienced, she knows what women experience in our culture and that experience is needed in the Supreme Court, and needs to be represented.  It’s still not equal on the bench, but now we have three women and the potential for their collective power to be realized.  Ruth Ginsberg who has had to go it alone finally has company, a wise Latina woman and someone whose been experienced.

Stand up for what you’re worth

One thing that will be a given in the era of women is not only equal pay for equal work, but that work associated with the feminine like child care, the arts, nursing, education will be properly paid. It is stunning that this is still an issue and women are still paid considerably less than men. Hannah Riley Bowles conducted several studies and found that people associate higher pay with men, that women are less likely to ask for raises, and when she attempts to negotiate a higher pay she is perceived as less attractive. Here we go again with that same old “strong women are unfeminine!” But when a woman successfully negotiates a higher salary because she feels her work merits a raise, she clears the path for other women to follow.

Sometimes it requires a collective effort, after all, feminine power is a collective power. For instance, 12 women sued Novartis Pharmaceuticals for sex discrimination in pay and promotions. With overwhelming evidence at hand, they won and not onlydid they  receive $3.35 million, they opened the path for 5,600 women employees to apply for damages as well. The verdict could cost the company more than $200 million. Of course, Novartis denies any wrong doing and will appeal. These gladiators just refuse to say they are wrong, and doom themselves to repeating the same mistakes.

The discrimination largely targeted pregnant women, either by firing or harassing them. The irony of ironies is Novartis received a Working Mother magazine award. What a disconnect!

So Iron Butterflies, if you are not being paid properly, find other women who feel the same and stand together. Talk it through on how to best present your case. If we don’t stand up for what we are worth, no one will.  If we don’t place value on the work we do, no one will. I mean, the median salary for a pre-school teacher is $26,000. An entry level plumber gets $40,000. Shouldn’t those who are raising the future earn at least as much as a plumber?

Mother’s Day

As worthy as the tradition of  honoring mothers as childbearers,  as nurtures, as the caretakers of the future is, the original intent of  Mother’s Day had a higher purpose.   In 1870, American poet and women’s leader Julia Ward Howe established Mother’s Day. Her gesture was   a call for women to wage a general strike to end war. Mother’s Day was an anti-war statement, to celebrate peace and at that time to heal the pains of the Civil War. In her Mother’s Day Proclamation in Boston she wrote,

            “Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage,

            For caresses and applause.

            Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn

            All that we have been able to teach of

            charity, mercy and patience.”

As  mother’s mourn  the loss of their fallen sons and daughters in the fifty wars that are happening around the world now, or grieving  others lost to the organized violence of  suicide bombings around the world, Mother’s Day can return to its original intent and call for men to stop playing at war. We can call on our male dominated Congress, where only one Congressperson has a child in the military, to think twice before they send other people’s children to fight their wars.  Code Pink has devoted itself to peacemaking with a twist of humor and theater.  Peacexpeace links women together in a global circle for peace. See the amazing peace work women are doing around the world.

Hold a different power

Bella Abzug said, “In the 21st century, women will change the nature of power instead of power changing the nature of women.” Like leadership, we associate male posturing with the meaning of power. So when I asked Iron Butterflies about power, many said they didn’t want power, they wanted influence instead, reflecting how gladiator-infused the word has become–to have power over others and dominate. Iron Butterflies want nothing to do with that kind of power.

Perhaps because women learn and are socialized to think that power goes to men and that women shouldn’t want power, women tend to think of power more as a tool, an entity separate from themselves, so they don’t personally identify with it. Iron Butterflies make a distinction between wanting power for your identity or wanting power to achieve a mission; of wanting the power of position or power to be effective; of wanting to hold onto power and do what you have too get reelected or wanting power to make a difference and serve the people.

When we look at elected women officials, they almost never choose to run for office because they want to get elected and have power. It is because of an issue or a movement, of wanting to effect change which led them into a more national role. Nearly every woman in Congress, when they tell their personal story, the first thing they say is that they had no intention of running for office.

For example, in Oregon Senator Patty Murray, a homemaker, was so angry at the inadequacy of the education budget, she got herself elected to the State Senate. Governor Christine Gregoire started her career as a clerk typist, put herself through law school, and became a crusading anti-tobacco attorney general. These women reflect a larger trend among women in politics–they run because they are issue-driven not ego driven. Most women with political power are there because of what they wanted to do with that power. That is what, I think, Bella meant about the different use of power. Iron Butterflies don’t want to have power, they want power for improving things and effecting a direction or outcome.

Female power is not the inverse of male power, not the opposite of domination and control. It is something totally different. Female power doesn’t create dichotomies, such as, “us and them” but is in the service of realizing the power of “we.”  “Gathering” is how we realize our power and  use power differently from men. Men have tended to demonstrate ‘go for the kill’ mentality…Women have tended to prefer searching for common interests, solving problems, and collaborating to find win-win outcomes.” Feminine power is felt as a collective power and as a distributed phenomenon. Power is not conquering another, but a capacity to bring people together in the interest of collaborating and learning from each other. There are many issues facing human societies today and Iron Butterflies know that the solutions are there if nations are willing to use their power to learn from each other rather than focusing on the sheer desire to defeat another at any cost. What kind of power do you seek?

A kaleidoscope of Iron Butterflies at Bistro Bouchon

While in Richmond, VA we found our “Cheers” where everyone knows your name.  Bistro Bouchon, owned by Francis Devilliers and Wendy Kalif, is a welcoming, gracious place with absolutely wonderful French food. We have to tie ourselves down to stop us  from going there every night!  I quickly befriended Wendy, a transplant from Manhattan and a former stock broker. When I spoke to her about Iron Butterflies, she disclosed that one difficulty about restaurant life was not having time with her girlfriends. Francis came up with a solution: ladies night on Thursday where drinks and dessert are  half price!  So here we are on opening night having a blast. Iron Butterflies like to have fun and Wendy gets to be with her growing list of girlfriends! Bring a girlfriend and join her! Create a kaleidoscope of Iron Butterflies. And of course, guys are welcome too.

Iron Butterflies of Richmond, VA

I’ve spent close to two months in Richmond, spending time with my daughter Rasa and her husband Lewis, and my sweetest of granddaughters, Lina.  While here I also made friends with Dougie Bowman and her husband Bob Scudder. 

Let me tell you about Iron Butterfly Dougie. She and her husband invited 15 top executive women of Richmond to a cocktail party so that I could talk about my book and start a different converstion. It was an amazing group of women, diverse professionally and by age. Some of them had never met. Three things struck me. Talking to them, I had their full attention; no fidgeting, distraction, they were completely with me. The second thing was that the conversation took a turn into deep waters when one successful and wealthy woman said she prostituted herself to get there. That opened the door for others to talk about their price of success, such as two failed marriages, stroking male egos, dealing with being called “kitten.”  I don’t think this was a conversation many of them had had before. It was so refreshing to speak truth. No whitewashing. The third inspiring moment was that the women are going to gather again to discuss the ideas in the book. The conversation continues. Women supporting women, joining together with intention to shape the era of women. A start of an Iron Butterfly chapter?

The spirit of Devas


I’m always on the alert to write about new Iron Butterflies and what these determined and gentle women are up to. I welcome you to comment on an Iron Butterfly you know and admire. Share a story.   Or tell your story of a time you were courageously vulnerable or wish you had been.

 Here’s a story about one of the Iron Butterflies in my book, Janice Cook, an artist in London, that I interviewed several years ago. I met her in Covent Garden where she was selling her “devas” at an outdoor stand. Devas are sparkling fairy like creatures. Choosing a deva is a very intuitive process because each deva has a special message that will speak to your spirit.  I have one hanging in my kitchen window in New Hampshire. As it often happened when I spoke with Iron Butterflies, I had that “girlfriend!” feeling with Janice and liked her instantly. Her grit, her funkiness, playfulness and thoughtfulness made for a lively conversation.

Recently as I was wrapping up my book before it went to press,  in the eleventh hour my publisher told me I needed to get Janice’s permission to quote her otherwise  she’d have a pseudonym. I had tried locating her before but everytime time I punched in her website, another unrelated website came up. This try was no different. This time, out of desparation, I asked if a Janice Cook worked there. Someone responded saying they needed to know more.   I explained my situation and pretty quickly got a response from Brian who said he was Janice’s boyfriend and to call him.  I tried several times but couldn’t seem to connect.  I remembered seeing Brian once; a big guy with a kind face, tattoes and who was in a rock band.

Brian emailed me saying he didn’t want to tell me in this way, but Janice had died and the second anniversary of her death was approaching.  She had died of cancer, quite suddenly and unexpectedly. I was devastated to hear the news. I tried calling him again and finally got in touch with him. We had a lovely heart felt conversation.

Brian now sits at the outdoor booth in Covent Garden selling her devas.  He uses Janice’s molds but they aren’t sparkly like hers. I could just imagine this big guy selling fairies. They call him the King of Fairies. He carries on and keeps Janice’s spirit alive.

I ended up sending him the transcript of our conversation which he shared with Janice’s brothers.  He sent me a deva necklace he made, and this one was the deva of appreciation. I love it.  It’s like their baby; a creation that comes from both of them.  So if you are in London’s Covent Garden, look for the big guy selling devas. There’s a special message waiting for you there.   And I got to quote Janice.

Entering new terrain.

This is my first blog and I’m hoping to use it as a forum to discuss how women are changing the world.  Bringing to the forefront those small events, often overlooked, that can make a big difference  It’s noticing the ordinary things that often become extraordinary.