Are We Done Yet? Women at the Top Dont Signify Equality

Friday, 15 July 2011 19:30 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While it was great fun reading the pieces about five notables who are female, please note that four out of five were or are still outside the innermost circles of power. And by the way, while these five have impressive successes and apparently operate on equal footing with male colleagues, U.S. women in general are being hit harder than men by the country’s slow recovery.

One measure of women’s equality is the right of women to be as big of a jerk as any man.

Another is for a woman to replace a man in a position of extraordinary power.

A third is for a woman to carve out a sphere of influence where she can successfully challenge the guy-wisdom

A fourth is for a woman to be so financially and professionally successful, she claims she doesn’t need power

A fifth is to be ahead in the Iowa polls.

All were on display this week in a coincidental convergence of news stories about women, significant women, who were not part of a sex scandal or failed marriage, but for their work!

Rebekah Brooks, the right-hand woman serving Rupert Murdoch in charge of the newsrooms where reporters routinely hacked into private telephone calls, including the Royals and the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (along with erasing messages left on the phone of a murdered teen) is certainly a big time jerk and finally resigned today. A truly remarkable set of circumstances that mark her as a jerk of the year regardless of gender.

Christine Lagarde is apparently not a jerk—at least not as big as one as the former head of the International Monetary Fund. In her first week at work as head of the hugely important lender to developing nations appointed two top aides, one from China and one from the United States. She also gave an exclusive interview to This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour in which she gave the U.S. a little shove in the direction she thought the current debt talks should go.

"I can't imagine for a second that the United States would default," Lagarde told Amanpour. “But, clearly, this issue of the debt ceiling has to be resolved."

Sheila Bair was the cover of The New York Times Magazine and the profile inside painted her as a hero. The former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation gave what is described as an “exit interview” detailing how she fought the against Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, back when he was president of the New York Federal Reserve (he now has Paulson’s old job) to forget bailing out big banks and investors and to focus on helping homeowners.

Although she was called “difficult,” she won one major battle by simply “dragging it out” until the financial crisis of 2008 made vividly clear she was right and they were wrong. Bair, a Republican from Independence, Kan., has never made women’s issues as part of her portfolio, but as Women’s eNews has reported, subprime mortgages were heavily marketed to women and thus it is not surprising that the one person in the Obama economic troika fighting for the mortgage holders was a person named Sheila.

The New Yorker published a cover story on a woman who is an outstanding success in the boy-toy mecca of Silicone Valley. The writer, Ken Auletta, describes Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, as “post-feminist” although does not quote her using that term herself. She was not made C.E.O. of Facebook when she hired on and is not a member of the board, but she claims such seats of power are irrelevant to her.

She is happy running the company and making it hugely profitable. In her speeches around the country and her actions within the company, according to Auletta, Sandberg emphasizes that women should “lean in” to taking on opportunities. She also emphasizes that women do not push themselves forward as much as men and that, once they start considering having a family, they stop “raising their hand.” Her advice? Get the job you want first and “don’t leave before you leave.” Not quite post-feminist by my standards.

Clearly her advice is meant for those with M.B.A’s. or other top degrees, but Michele Bachmann reaches a more grassroots crowd. She is more of an anti-feminist, albeit one who clearly has benefited from the women’s rights movement: she is a small business owner and a U.S. tax attorney. (Michele—there were no female attorneys in the room when the Constitution was written. See letters from John Adams to Abigail for more information.)

Described as less wacky, and thus more electable, than Sarah Palin. Bachmann is ahead in the Iowa polls and the other guys in the race are starting to really get put out. News media have begun to drop their ridicule and treat her as the serious candidate she is: Right now she is not responding to charges that her mental health clinic offered “gay conversion” therapy.  Which is just fine and dandy. Her record should be examined.

Bottom line though: Despite the bumper crop of women being taken seriously, current report indicate that women are losing ground economically every day.

Joan Entmacher, the economy watcher for the National Women's Law Center cited the hard data during a press conference yesterday.

The most recent federal jobs report indicates that since the recent recession ended in 2009, men have added 768,000 jobs, while the number of jobs held by women has fallen by 218,000. Entmacher added that women not gain as many jobs as men, women actually lost jobs. “Fewer women are employed today than they were when the recession ended,” Entmacher said. She pointed to the large lay offs in government jobs. “Women lost 70 percent of all the jobs lost in the public sector,” she reported.

Unfortunately, none of the media stars put their own success in this context so no, we are not done yet!