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?