June 1, 2012 / Opportunity

Gender Armageddon and the Broken Women’s Movement


The following article was also featured on the Front Page of The Huffington Post.

Lately, I’ve become obsessed with Girls, the new HBO series about women in their 20s.  Not in a joyful way.  In a worried – watching a car wreck – kind of way.

Okay, I’ll own it.  The reason I’m mesmerized by the girls in Girls – the hapless, aimless, tragic victims – is because of guilt.  We’ve let these young women down.  We were tone deaf to their generation’s needs and struggles, and failed to support and equip them with tools to thrive and succeed.  Instead, we’ve allowed the media complex, with its 97% male top brass, to fill the void and define our young women and girls as sexualized, often victimized, objects.   Today, 3 of 4 teen girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful.

The onslaught is hardly confined to young women and girls.  Women are moving backwards by many measures and under siege from all directions – a veritable gender armageddon!

Just this month,  Patti Hart (Yahoo) and Ina Drew (JP Morgan) ‘stepped down’ for the misdeeds of their male counterparts.  The Cannes Film Festival brushed off criticism of it’s all male line-up.  Women’s Professional Soccer folded.  TIME wondered if we were mom enoughMen moved into jobs traditionally held by women, then leapfrogged us up the glass escalator into management.  Catholic Bishops announced an investigation of the Girl Scouts.  Shall I continue?

Stating the obvious is not going to win me any popularity contests, but it needs to be said:  the women’s movement is officially broken!  It’s time for a new approach.

We must be realistic and turn the page.  Women’s advocacy can no longer afford it’s almost singular focus on abortion rights.  I can feel some of you steaming at me for daring to suggest this at a time when reproductive rights are under assault.   I dutifully assure you, I understand.

But, here’s the reality – like it or hate it:  the Second Wave has stayed at the punch bowl of abortion rights, while the party has moved down the block.  Women in their 20s and 30s are not galvanized around the issue of abortion.   Frankly, neither are many of us in Gen X.  The intensity gap was recently noted by Nancy Keenan as she announced her retirement as President of NARAL:  it’s not your mother’s women’s movement anymore.

There’s no use bemoaning this fact or wagging our fingers at younger women, I hope you lose your rights, then you’ll understand how hard we had to fight.  They’re not spoiled or ungrateful – it’s just, respectfully, not their reality.  Young women face a whole different set of stresses and concerns.

If you ask college women, they’ll tell you they worry about sexism.  They are keenly aware that gender will unfairly disadvantage them in the workforce.  If you had asked me about ‘sexism’ back when I was in college, I would have assumed you were referring to a new position.  The hopefulness of the women of my generation – personified by the bold, assured, engaged women of Sex and the City – is gone.

Let’s take a moment to put things into perspective.  Women have enjoyed the right to vote for less than a century.  Women have worked outside of the home for less than half a century.  What is it to be a women in the workplace is still undefined. Compare this to men who after centuries have established networks of connections and defined career paths to leadership (of which they hold 83% or more in most fields).

What’s next?  If the Second Wave was about choice, the next half century for women is about control.  In control of ourselves and our finances (economically empowered).  In positions of control as tomorrow’s leaders.

Why is it so crucial to have women in leadership?  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said it most eloquently at a recent speech to Cornell Women:   “If women made up 51 percent of Congress, we wouldn’t be debating contraception right now.  We’d be working on jobs.”

Think about that for a moment.  Imagine too how different our media messaging would be if more women were positions of control!

How do we get women into leadership positions?  After all, there’s no such thing as a traditional career path for women, many of whom are entering or re-entering the workforce in our 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s by choice or necessity (divorce, empty nest, family illness, spousal job loss).  We can take a cue from the women of Sex and the City.  True, the headline was sex; but the byline was a celebration of the possibilities of what women could do with the support of their girlfriends.  This sisters, is where we start!

We must instill in our young women the importance of building their network of connections – essentially a birthright for their male counterparts.  In my two decades on Wall Street, almost every new job I got was because of peer connections.  When I speak to college women, I encourage them to start right away:  the women on your team, in your sorority, in your dorm.  And consciously continue as you enter the workforce to constantly build and maintain your networks – in a fun way, true to who you are – over cocktails, facials, theater – whatever commonality you enjoy.

On June 4th, The New Agenda will launch a new annual initiative, National Girlfriends’ Networking Day.   The objective is for women to think about the necessity of building connections and proactively planning career paths.  The goal is to promote and cultivate tomorrow’s leaders.  Please get involved.

And if you’re dismayed, take action!   Serve as a role model (got an hour to help a mentee, go here).  Help build a pipeline of women in every career field who, once in control, will shape and define what it is to be a women in the workplace.  Re-engineer yourself to think of all women as your allies in the battle to end this gender armageddon.  In the words of 19th century pioneer journalist, Margaret Fuller:  “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”


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  • Bes

    I am also disgusted by the media environment todays young women have grown up in. That represents a huge fail on the part of Corporate Media and Women’s groups. The way to put a stop to the piles of sexism force fed into our culture is to cut the cable, save yourself a lot of money each month and get the shows you want from Netflix or Hulu. The Corporate Media must be pushed into a free market where most of their garbage, sexist offerings will die a quick death. As it is they are allowed to extort fees for a “one size fits all men” cable package and women viewers are being screwed. Yes I realize they offer “women’s channels” and I resent paying for their offensive programing and their offensive advertising.

    As far as “Girls” goes I know we are supposed to watch it because it is written by a woman. Well there is a problem in media with lack of opportunities for women writers, directors, editors, camera people, etc. BUT there is also a problem with lack of compelling authentic programing for the potential female audience. These are two separate problems and solving one problem apparently doesn’t solve the other problem. I am sick of women characters who are empowerfulated by lingerie and acquire life purpose through violent sexual assault. I am also bored with women characters who are defined through fashion and don’t have a life plan or who can’t carry out their life plan. I don’t care if these sorts of characters are written by women, or more likely have one female name among a bunch of male writers, I am asserting my rights as an audience member and I expect to be entertained when I sit down in front of the TV. Also I don’t see how entertainment for women could fit into the HBO formula. Corporate Media has conditioned women audience to expect crap punctuated every 5 minutes with offensive tit and ass advertising from all shows aimed at women.

  • yttik

    Good post! I really think we’re starting to go backwards and it’s time to change direction.

    Lately I’ve been looking at some old photos of women from the 30’s and 40’s and listening to their stories. Every one of those women have excitement and adventure on their faces. Women had just won the right to vote, to get educations, to hold jobs. LOL, to ride bicycles and drive cars! Short hair was becoming fashionable and women were wearing pants. They had role models like Amelia Earhart to show them what was possible. When the war came, women were pulled into the work force, doing jobs that had always been reserved for men, “Rosie the Riveter” and the entire commercial airline industry actively recruited women. It was a whole new frontier. When the war ended and the 50’s came, women were sent back home into marriages, to become the ultimate housewives. The 60’s and 70’s somehow transformed women into sexual objects with free love, bc, abortion access. But it got so oppressive, another women’s rights movement was born, then the ERA failed, and we have spent the last 40 years focusing on abortion almost as if this were the only right a woman will ever need. The other day I read a statistic that said 73% of minimum wage jobs were held by women. Even some of our best political advocates for equal pay have been exposed for paying women 27% less than they pay their male staffers.

    I’m not against abortion, BC, sexuality, but if we truly want women to have access to these things, the first step is to pay them enough so that they genuinely have real choices. I find it appalling that the most we seem able to ask for is that women be allowed to be financially dependent on the Gov to provide these things. To hell with that, I want 52% representation in congress and equal pay.

  • JeanLouise

    I applaud your initiative, Amy, but I’ve been around for a long time and women like Sarah Palin and Ann Romney are not my allies in the ongoing battle to end this gender armageddon. In every war, there are Benedict Arnolds and in the currently ramped up war on women, many of those traitors to their fellow women are Republican women who claim to believe in equal pay for equal work but oppose any rational laws or regulations that allow women to take action against employers who cheat them of their pay. Sharron (getting pregnant from rape is like getting a gift from God) Angle is not my ally. Phyllis Schlafley, a hyper-religious attorney who has spent her whole life employed “outside the home” working to assure that other women who want to work outside the home have it as difficult as possible, is not my ally.

    We can never stop trying to help ourselves and other women but it just doesn’t make sense to pretend that common plumbing translates to common goals.

  • yttik

    “it just doesn’t make sense to pretend that common plumbing translates to common goals.”

    Women are a lot more than just their plumbing. In order to believe that plumbing is all we have in common, you have to believe that women have nothing else to offer.

  • Carolyn

    Thanks for comments — I needed to hear that. I feel so resentful that my daughter is forced to food stamps because the “system” can never manage to collect child support from her ex-husband. But what is really hard is hearing people rant about the “entitlement” programs and what a useless, lazy bunch of scum are on them. (Mostly women.)
    In maintaining her food stamp status I had to write notes for my daughter if I gave her any assistance. If I bought a bottle of ibuprofen or a box of diapers she had to take it with her in writing. They constantly grilled her and degraded her status.
    All I could think of when she would come back humiliated and in tears is that her ex was living well and had to account for nothing. There needs to be some serious legislation regarding this dead beat parent problem. Like, why can’t they “find him” one of the the many times he goes in to buy a car tag for a new vehicle?
    It’s not just my daughter — our tax dollars are paying for every one of these kids when the parents are not coming through. Not exactly on subject, but thanks for allowing me to unload — and everyone for the work going on here.

  • Carolyn

    Sorry — sort of failed to finish my point. If my daughter could work for something barely over minimum wage she wouldn’t need the assistance anyway. So it is a backlash. If the wages were more equal then there wouldn’t be the need for as much help. In other words she is forced to either depend on “daddy-husband” or “daddy-government.” Then to be scorned by the system that created this hamster wheel.

  • Bes

    Carolyn: Your comment regarding child support is on topic. Paternity of children being supported by the taxpayers should be proved by the state and child support should be taken from the parents wages and sent to the supporting parent. Dead beat parents should not be allowed to either let their children starve or be dependent on the state. If women held 52% of the positions in government this problem would be solved yesterday.

  • JeanLouise

    Bes, that is exactly how child support is handled in my state. It’s a decent system but it doesn’t work when 1) the mother either doesn’t know or pretends not to know who the father it or 2) the non-custodial parent does not work.

  • Bes

    If the mother doesn’t know or pretends not to know who the father of her child is she should lose benefits, I don’t even have a problem with a woman who gives a list of 5 or 10 paternal possibilities, test them all whether they like it or not. But just saying “I don’t know who is the father” and dumping the financial responsibility of children on the responsible taxpayers is not OK. As far as not working goes I see many jobs available around me, sure they aren’t jobs people want but too bad, if you have children to support you either make an effort or go somewhere like a poor farm. I have worked many jobs in my life including babysitting large families, picking berries and house cleaning and I don’t appreciate being taxed to support the responsibilities of people who are “too good” to take the sort of jobs I have taken to get by.

    There aren’t going to be any perfect systems but dead beat parents should not be allowed to dump on taxpayers.

  • Marille

    Bes, if you are trapped with children and not paying husband without great educations lots of support and smarts, some of your suggestions won’t work. I remember an example I read not too long ago about a situation happening with her win democratic maryland. A mom was interviewing for jobs (probably minimum wage) and left her children in public storage place for hours. reported to county, mom in jail, children gone despite her friends from church who volunteered to support her, that she would not have to do that again. and everyone of course scorned her not the county or our accepted understanding that you cannot bring kids to work. so you could not go berry picking and bring your kids (child labor) and wait for social services to find out. it seems you are legally required to sit at home with small children and live on food stamps, if you don’t have a great support system.

  • Marille

    sorry typo “happening here in”

  • Alison

    I love Amy’s article. This, along with National Girlfriend Networking Day has really inspired me to think about economics as the number 1 issue in women’s lives. It is very understandable where this conversation went in terms of the economic struggles and situational struggles of many mothers. I am married, my husband works, I work part-time. Even for me my status as the mother of a pre-k child is a very huge part of what I can do for myself and my family financially. I suppose it get’s easier when kids are in public schools and have access to after school programs. But I only have one child. For those who have more than one this time frame of young children who are very dependent on a parent or caregiver for much of the day is extended. The grandparent support for many (such as myself) has fizzled a bit in our culture, too. During my mother’s generation, many families had grandparents deeply involved in the care taking of their children, but now, not nearly as much. I know many mothers who have not received more than a few hours of child care support from the grandparents. My child only sees her grandparents once or twice a year. And government support is of course limited. I’m not sure what the answer is but the conversation on economic empowerment should have some focus on mothers, as it is just an economic reality that most women will deal with this complex work/ family/ child situation.

  • Alison

    Just to add on to the theme of networking, so important for mom’s both working and those who are SAH! Making time to network has to become a priority for mothers just as exercising/ health is a priority for many mothers who have to fit this goal into their already busy schedule. I have realized that since becoming a mom my husband is always the one who jets out in the evening for political/ social/ business networking events while I take care of my daughter. I never thought it was important during this time to make connections myself (since I am not working full-time at the moment) but I am realizing that it is.

  • Bes

    Marille: True any suggestion won’t work for every woman with kids and no support but what Government does now isn’t working well and waiting for the perfect solution before trying a different approach also doesn’t help. If the government can find people to get their tax payments and the government can deduct union dues from peoples paychecks then the government can work harder to get determine paternity and extract the support payments owed to children.

    I’m not sure government is the best source of help and support for single parents other than getting their court ordered support to them. Many churches do a lot of work along these lines. Of course many needy people don’t have a religious identity. I am always shocked that liberals want to see the government take over so many functions in society. Why don’t liberals form a huge nonprofit and develop coops for single moms, come up with a non profit affordable basic health insurance which people can buy, etc. They could get Liberal believers to tithe to the programs like religious people do. The problem with having government do it is sooner or later the opposing party is going to be in power and they will screw up your programs. If liberals would just learn to leave government out of it they could start programs on their own and control the programs no matter the political climate.