To Turn Downturn Into Upturn: Cherchez la Femme!

By Lois Phillips, Phd, with Sarah Soto MS

Traditional male-centric business practices as well as unregulated policies imposed on our modern society got us in to this global recession. In other words: Men got us into this mess. Women need to help get us out.

There’s significant evidence that a faster, better path to recovery might involve men and women.

Think about it:

 Women are economically powerful, controlling $20 trillion in consumer spending annually around the world

 Women-owned business have been growing faster than male-owned businesses for decades

 Women tend to invest in their communities more than men – spurring local development

 Finally, they can be every bit as innovative as men.

Innovation drives job creation, declared the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January. While some of the world’s most famous economic minds wrestled with the problem of 200 million unemployed, the Davos program organizers underrepresented half the human race: only 17% of Forum attendees were women and only 20% of those invited to attend the WEF and discuss issues on panels were women.

One innovative approach would have been to invite more women with experience in technology. After all, women have invented a host of breakthroughs, ranging from the Kevlar in auto tires to circular saws and rotary engines – to say nothing of the washing machine and the dishwasher. Indeed, we’ll probably never know the true history of feminine innovation because women couldn’t even get a patent until the late 19th Century.

Women’s real economic potential may be well-hidden, but that doesn’t mean they don’t call the shots on key financial decisions. Globally, they make the final decision on 91% of home purchases, 80% of health care choices, 66% of computers and 65% of new cars. Marketers have long realized that they ignore at their peril the female perspective on their products.

Still, women remain second-class economic citizens. Female working poverty rates are higher than male rates in 22 of 27 countries, reported the International Labor Office in Geneva in advance of International Woman’s Day March 8. Women struggle to obtain financing to start their own businesses. They have a hard time breaking into businesses beyond education, retail and service industries. They are woefully under-represented in the hot “STEM” disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math).

Clearly leaving the female factor out of the economic recovery formula means a global growth engine firing only four of its eight cylinders.

What can be done? The solution lies in putting four key “pistons” in the engine.

First, equal access to capital. A Boston Consulting Group study of 12,000 women around the world found that financial services – banking, investment and insurance products and advice – were the worst at connecting with female consumers. The Center for Women’s Business Research found that, while 41% of privately held U.S. companies are women-owned, only 3% to 5% obtain venture capital. Not surprisingly, women entrepreneurs are often compelled to undercapitalize their young companies, retarding growth.

Second, a place at the table. Davos isn’t the only place women are under-represented. Today’s successful workplace demands a collaborative, team-oriented, cross-functional approach to continuous improvement processes. Recent research informs us that women excel in facilitating communication between departments and divisions in ways that improve morale and productivity. That’s a far cry from the leadership style found in conventional “male” hierarchies and silo cultures. You don’t need a STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) to successfully facilitate improved communication between high-tech teams but it does take another set of skills and aptitudes- some would call it “EQ”- that demonstrably impacts the bottom line.

Third, the opportunity to lead. Involving more women in corporate decision-making processes will be the key to business success in the future. Companies need to invest resources in women’s training, mentoring, and professional development, as well as ensuring that corporate culture is inclusive and women have access to female role models, mentoring, and career advancement opportunities. And the more we are all exposed to competent women leaders, prejudices and double standards tend to dissipate.

Fourth, better education and training. A more inclusive education model will be an enormous step forward. “Male” models of business are still taught by an overwhelming majority of business schools. Examples of women entrepreneurs have been left out of textbooks, and rarely is a female business owner used as the example or case study. As a result, students aren’t learning about the different abilities and styles that businesswomen are using to succeed as owners and managers in today’s global team-driven environment. Standardizing and funding model programs designed to encourage women to succeed in STEM disciplines should be a matter of course.

In French, the phrase “cherchez la femme!” (“Look for the woman!”) often meant that women were the root cause of problems. Now, as we hunt for ways out of the economic morass, let’s reframe the term. “Look for the woman” just might be the way to find the solution.

BIO:
Lois Phillips, PhD, is the author of Woman Seen and Heard: Lessons Learned from Successful Speakers. An organizational consultant, executive coach and speechwriter, she previously was a higher education executive. Sarah Soto, MS, is a market research consultant producing trend analysis reports for publications, companies, and strategic planning.

Finally, a “Real” Candidate

“I’m going to do this. I’m running for the US Senate.”

Elizabeth Warren looks directly at the camera and tells us that she’s ready. She talks to us as if we’re old friends. She sounds like the voice of reason. The middle class has suffered enough and it’s time for a change. True, it sounds a bit familiar, like the great line from the film Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Can she do it? Only 17 of 100 Senators are women so we know it will be a tough fight. One way her candidacy will succeed is by winning debates.

In looking at Warren’s candidacy, let’s examine her speaking style as she pitches to voters, raises funds, speaks to the press, and debates her opponents.

But first there’s breaking news: As of today, Elizabeth Warren has raised $5.7 million for her Senate bid or $2.5 million more than Senator Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts. It’s likely that her fundraising success reflects strong grassroots support, with an average contribution of $64.

Oppositional politics has left voters cynical about the process and many voters are looking for someone who is knowledgeable, reflects strong values, will work hard, and can bring people together. According to Robert Siegel of National Public Radio (NPR, Oct. 2010) there had been virtually no cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. during the few years before 2010, much less 2012 when Tea Party candidates won 87 seats and deepened the polarization.

Who is Elizabeth Warren and does she stand a chance of winning? By way of background, “Ms. Warren is known for her work as a consumer advocate; she set up the Obama administration’s new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and decided to run for office once President Obama did not tap her to lead it.” With Republicans clearly opposed to her appointment, Obama moved on and so did she.

In a Wikipedia summation of her life, it becomes clear that she lives her values. Her faith, family, and life experiences shape her understanding of how tough it can be for middle-class families to remain solvent.

  • Faith: Warren has discussed how she believed in the teachings of John Wesley, a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian (1703-1791), who founded with his brother the modern Methodist Movement.  An evangelical with a commitment to progressive social change, he wrote and spoke against the slave trade, and was active in the prison reform and abolitionism movements. Warren is  herself a reformist who believes in justice, civil rights and fair play.
  • Family: Warren’s family experience supports research for the book Women Seen and Heard(Phillips and Perez-Ferguson, Luz Publications, 2004), which revealed that women speakers gain a great deal of self-confidence from growing up in  gregarious homes in which there is a lively relationship between siblings. Dinner table conversations and debates about current issues prepare children for real-world disagreements. The Herring family struggled financially with medical bills when Elizabeth’s father became disabled; her mother and she (at 14) then went to work to pay bills. She is quoted as saying: “I’m still very connected to my family, to the world I grew up in. I understand what it means to be afraid that you can’t pay a doctor’s bill. Or to have to make the choice between buying a band uniform for a seventh-grader and making the insurance payment on time. That will never leave me. It was how I lived until I was well into my adult years.” http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/elizabeth_warren.
  • Elizabeth must have benefited from not only being the youngest of four but the only daughter with three older brothers. We know from research that being the only girl with older brothers meant exposure to a  rough and tumble “boys’ world” that develops a thicker skin and  the capacity to be a team player.
  • Life Experience: In high school, Elizabeth learned to debate and later went to George Washington University on a full debate-team scholarship — helpful skills to advance in a business, legal, and professional world shaped by men. In college, Elizabeth studied speech pathology and worked with children with disabilities, including those with brain injuries. After being at home raising children for several years, she was a “re-entry” student, studying law, then working in various jobs including real estate until she worked full-time as an attorney and later as a professor. But, like many women, the juggling act gave her a sense of what it’s like to live on a budget and the challenges low-income and middle-income families face as consumers of health care services, of loans and mortgages, and retirement plans, just to mention a few.

Make no mistake; audiences are able to interpret the non-verbal cues that tell us when someone is truthful and when someone is not, when someone is telling people what they don’t want to hear and what they do. When Warren speaks about consumer protection, her heart and  her head are united. Her sincerity is clear, from the way she makes eye contact and gestures,  to her conversational style. Standing for something, being knowledgeable, and being consistent means she can easily manage the Q & A and any tough audience because she knows what she means and means what she says. Speakers experience stress when they bob and weave, regurgitating whatever morning’s polls and trends reveal. We know that Elizabeth Warren speaks up for what she believes in. And she is a risk taker who is willing to be aggressive when she says things like:

“I support ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and the 99 percent movement. I stand with the Wall Street protesters. It’s time for the banks to own up to the greed that helped wreck our economy.”

We know that elected women are capable of being tough and standing for what they believe is right; for instance, California has another fighter in Attorney General, Kamala Harris who walked away from settlement talks with the nation’s largest banks, saying that “This is not the deal that Californians have been waiting for.” Californians need someone like Warren who will also fight for the American consumer –in the Senate.

Politics is the art of the possible. People want to believe that effective politicians are capable of  making and living with reasonable compromises that benefit our diverse society. Support for the Tea Party — and with it, the Republican Party — has fallen sharply even in places considered Tea Party strongholds, so perhaps Elizabeth Warren can use those debate skills to convince the public that more effective governance is possible, if she is given a leadership role.

As her senatorial campaign revs up, Elizabeth Warren will be making news as a woman candidate who is an American bankruptcy expert, policy advocate, Harvard Law School professor, author, and consumer advocate surely an impressive string of credentials–but her sustainability as a candidate will depend on her ability to communicate trustworthiness as someone from a middle-class family.  At the microphone, she must remain bold and consistent, be who she is, and stay focused on her beliefs and values as she faces skittish voters and the press.

American voters, tired of candidates who raise their fingers in the air to decide which way the political wind is blowing, may be ready for a woman candidate who speaks plainly and truthfully and holds her faith, family and friends as markers in a road-map for navigating the  current American reality. We can only hope so.

WomanSpeak Podcast

Women must establish credibility as the voice of authority before audiences will listen, but how can we do that? What strategies will help us achieve leadership positions and larger life goals? Stereotypes taught generations that “silence is golden”- but only when men do all the talking. Lois has an interesting frame for encouraging women to speak up and assert their big ideas. If you want to make a difference in your community or embark on a successful career, you must communicate effectively.

Dr Nancy O’Reilly interviews Dr Lois Phillips on her WomanSpeak podcast on the subject of how Women Gain Power With Communication.

VOICEAMERICA Interview

Lois Phillips VOICEAMERICA Interview with Dr Cathy Greenberg and Dr. Relly Nadler: EQ and Women’s Leadership

Women’s Brainpower vs. Men’s Power

By Lois Phillips, PhD, Educational Consultant, 08/26/11

August 26 was Women’s Equality Day [1] but how far have women advanced really, and should we remain optimistic that women will continue to advance into top leadership roles? In “Sonic Boom: Globalization at Match Speed” Gregg Easterbrook is optimistic, predicting five future trends so enormous in scale that the author equates them to “sonic booms.” Easterbrook postulates that one trend is that women will contribute to the world’s supply of big ideas; he writes:

“In Western nations, women’s education levels and personal freedom already are on track to equal men’s; in much of the developing world, this could happen in the next two generations. Throughout history, most women have been denied a fair shot at contributing to research, engineering, business-management, and leadership roles. As this changes, there will be twice as many people applying their brainpower to the world’s problems.”

While this is an admirable and progressive point of view, I’m disappointed by three recent examples that demonstrate the push-back that can occur when well-educated, competent, and experienced professional women attempt to apply their brainpower to solving the world’s problems. Look what happened to Brooksley Born, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheila Bair when they asserted big ideas and attempted to speak truth to power.

Brooksley Born - Frontline Interview

Brooksley Born - Frontline Interview

Why did Congress allow the secretive multi-trillion dollar trading of “derivatives” to remain unregulated?

First, we have the case of Brooksley Born, presented in an excellent Frontline documentary called “The Warning.” Born is an American attorney and former public official who, from 1996-1999 was chairperson of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the federal agency that oversees the futures and commodity options markets. An honors student at Stanford and Stanford Law, Born seemed like an excellent candidate to chair this commission. During her tenure on the CFTC, Born lobbied Congress and the President to give the CFTC oversight of off-exchange markets for derivatives in addition to its role with respect to exchange-traded derivatives, but her warnings were opposed by other regulators. Because the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivative markets were outside the regulatory range, Born believed that they posed an enormous threat to the country’s fiscal stability. Among those who were disdainful of her point of view were four powerful men with strong Wall Street connections: Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Timothy Geithner, and Larry Summers. As the documentary shows clearly, they believed that she was over-reacting, in the sexist spirit of dismissing “just another hysterical woman.” Greenspan believed that the markets would take care of themselves. Had they respected her brainpower and had Congress taken her advice, the country might have voided the crash that helped trigger the 2008 financial collapse.

Why did big banks get to play by different rules from smaller banks?

Sheila Bair was the outgoing chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) when she agreed to be interviewed regarding her experiences and perspective about the fights to solve the financial crises our country has faced. She was another key player in the Dodd-Frank reform law, especially the part that sought to forestall future bailouts. She believed that the ratings of the big banks were too high but she was equally concerned about the smaller banks and the unfairness of their treatment. She would have been fine with not helping Bear Stearns; her attitude is that everyone needs to play by the same rules.

For the first year on the job, given her position with the FDIC it was surprising that Bair didn’t have a single meeting with the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulsen, with whom she later locked horns about the bailout decisions.  With a BA degree in philosophy and a law degree from the University of Kansas, she wondered if her lack of access to Paulsen was because she wasn’t an Ivy Leaguer, or if it was her gender, but regardless of why (and likely both), the men in power didn’t appreciate her point of view about how to proceed.  Her professional background was strong; for example, prior to her appointment at the FDIC, Bair was the Dean’s Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy for the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and then worked briefly at the Treasury Department. With this background, she was confident about her knowledge and abilities, and was willing to disagree with the other regulators in public, but, as a New York Times article described, her participation in debates weren’t necessarily appreciated. “The rap on her was always that she was ‘difficult’ and ‘not a team player.’

From her point of view, Bair feared that the generosity towards banks “too big to fail” demonstrated that the government put the interests of bondholders over those of taxpayers. Just as Brooksley Born wanted to regulate derivates to avoid a financial implosion, and was outvoted by Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin, Bair wasn’t successful except in using her brainpower in arguing with the establishment, attempting to challenge male authority during critical discussions that would forever impact the lives of ordinary people who invested in the US economy. To hear her measured speaking style and down-to-earth explanations with regard to the regulators’ responsibilities, you can listen to an interview at the Council of Foreign Relations conference or her speech at the ICBA convention.

Why must the Senate Republicans block consumer protection?

Best known of the three women is Elizabeth Warren, an attorney and Harvard law professor who has taught contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law. In the wake of the 2008-2011 financial crisis, she became the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the U.S. banking bailout or TARP (formally known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program.  She had long advocated for the creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (CFPB) and signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010. The bureau was created to protect consumers against deceptive financial products. As the special advisor she worked on implementation of the CFPB, building the agency and hiring excellent staff. On May 24, 2010, Time magazine called Warren, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair, and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro the New Sheriffs of Wall Street” in a cover story. What transpired was reminiscent of High Noon particularly because the townspeople basically abandon the Sheriff – in this case, Warren- at the end.

Warren was well prepared for a continuing leadership role and smooth transition but Senate Republicans had vowed to block Warren from ever being able to run the agency she brought to life; a New York Times article about the Republican opposition to her appointment described the Congressional hearings as a “torture chamber” and that “Warren has become a piñata.” Worn down by the Congressional opposition to her appointment, President Obama instead nominated Richard Cordray. As a result of this situation, Warren’s brainpower would not be further applied to the process of enforcing consumer protection long term. As for the public, we lost a committed advocate who could have sustained the CFPB’s initial momentum. On the bright side, Warren indicated that she is seriously exploring a run for the Massachusetts Senate to take back Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat, thus continuing a commitment to public service.

According to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, women make up 50.85% of the US population but nevertheless, women are not yet a critical mass as a force for change, which we see clearly from the female/male ratio in these three agencies. Without “a critical mass,” women will have a tough time being heard, particularly when they challenge the white male conservative establishment, much less the Wall Street establishment. Born, Warren, and Bair were three competent, capable, and brilliant women who were dismissed and disrespected, and their point of view trivialized.  What happened to them highlights the fact that women’s advancements into top executive and leadership positions have been disappointingly slow. Born, Warren, and Bair each cast a big shadow but nobody in power was willing or able to protect them from their detractors.

Born’s, Blair’s and Warren’s inability to shape the outcome of policies around derivatives, consumer protection, deregulation of the financial sector, and the bank bailouts affects each American, of course, but more so in ways that are idiosyncratic to women. The economic implosion and subsequent bank bailouts have increased women’s financial vulnerability because women as a group have acquired less wealth than men, and therefore, they are more vulnerable in economic downturns. For instance, women counted on their real estate investments as a retirement strategy. And women have been disproportionately affected by predatory lending.  Consider the impact of the economic implosion on women:

  • Women’s job loss as a result of the poor economy is consistent among women who are married and unmarried, with children or without, and across the economic and educational strata, according to a DOL report reported in the NY Times.
  • Women are more likely to live longer and to live in poverty, — especially women of color – and are the main beneficiaries of health care programs, which will likely be reduced because of the cost of the bailout and the poor economy.
  • Women borrowers are overrepresented in the sub-prime lending market, and elderly women have been prime targets of refinance and home improvement subprime lenders.

Women patronize the banks in their communities, which tend to fund small businesses, home mortgages, and college loans. Women are “the little guy” that Born, Warren, and Bair wanted to protect.  They deserve thanks for their efforts to do the right thing for consumers, and our hope that they — and other women as capable as they are – will continue to harness their brainpower in order to stabilize the economy and solve the world’s complex financial problems.

[1] National Women’s History Project: What is Women’s Equality Day?

Author: Lois Phillips, PhD, is an educational consultant and co-author of “Women Seen and Heard: Lessons Learned from Successful Speakers,” Luz Publications, 2006. An in-depth interview about women’s leadership by Relly Nadler and Cathy Greenberg, PhD at http://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/55720/women-seen-and-heard. Visit her blog at www.womenseenandheard.wordpress.com to read analyses of presentations by women in leadership roles or women’s coverage by the media.

Women’s Brainpower vs. Men’s Power is copyright protected @loisphillipsphd 2011. Please do not distribute or duplicate without the author’s permission unless for educational use. Thank you. www.womenseenandheard.wordpress.com

Remembering That When Women Spoke Up, They Changed History

By Lois Phillips, Ph.D.

August 26th is “Women’s Equality Day,” and it’s good to remember how far we’ve come. Think about the frustration that accompanied this statement from centuries gone by:

“… only by robbing woman of all her intellectual and creative resources can man protect his usurped power. He will not even let you speak . . . particularly not in public, or to other women, for the public arena, which is a source of influence and intellectual improvement, has also been monopolized by man.”

Throughout history women have had victories both small and large in the fight for full equality that led women to a range of opportunities that we enjoy today, and yet for the most part these victories have not been included in textbooks. As a result, people remain unaware of what their foremothers did to help women advance to the point where they are today: managers, leaders, and professionals in every sector of society. While politicians such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have recently capitalized on women’s advances and gained press attention as they advanced their ideas and candidacies, it is no small irony that these conservative Evangelical Christian women threaten to turn back the clock to an earlier time, preferring to see women—other than themselves, of course — lose legal rights such as Reproductive Choice.

The pressure to conform to conventional roles runs deep, having its roots in ancient times and the belief that women were intellectually inferior to men. During the Middle Ages and later in Colonial America women who spoke in public and displayed assertive traits were seen as masculine and inappropriately aggressive. They were called lepers, said to be both sexually deviant and consorting with the devil.

“Hysterics, bitches, scolds, fishwives, harpies and magpies” were words used to describe women who challenged the church’s authority. But even in private conversation, women who were thought to talk too much were forced to wear a “scold’s bridle” which pierced their tongue with a nail if they spoke. Now we admonish people to think before they speak or to “Bite your tongue.”

The tone of women’s voices was unfairly pointed out as sounding shrill, whiny, nagging and harping—descriptions of women’s supposedly irrational and overly emotional nature. This attitude is perpetuated even in the 21st century when hostile language is used to describe assertive women’s speech, particularly when they are seeking top positions. A man will be described as strong and determined in how he expresses himself, while women leaders are described as having an edge. A man can be detached while a woman with the same affect is described this way: it “rhymes with witch.” When candidates have been called “Ice Queen” and “mean girl” their voter approval rating drops, so let us be clear that sexist name-calling is no laughing matter. Understanding the extreme hardship women faced throughout history can inspire today’s women to combat the double standard at the podium.

Anxiety about speaking in public is common to women and men, but perhaps women sense that speaking in public is dangerous; history (or “herstory”) has shown us that asserting one’s beliefs, ideas, and opinions is an act that can lead social isolation, excommunication, and perhaps even death. Many women are understandably reticent to argue and debate controversial issues for these reasons and others. For those willing to persevere in standing up for their opinions, our American foremothers provide heroic role models.

Women are 51% of the population but still only 10% of our Congress in spite of the fact that they are better educated than ever, engaged, informed, and involved. To move forward as full partners with men, today’s women leaders would do well to remember that it is possible to advocate for change. After all, women today stand on the shoulders of brilliant and courageous women who achieved radical reforms from speaking up and remaining tenacious. From this vantage point, women leaders can see a future full of political and economic possibilities that their foremothers could not even imagine. In order to honor the history of women as speakers, women leaders need to look ahead and not look back, sending a progressive message about women’s status in every debate, discussion, and press interview.

NOTE: To read and purchase the complete essay, go to http://www.scribd.com/search?query=History+of+Women+Speakers.
“History of Women Speakers: When Women Spoke up, They Changed History” by Lois Phillips, PhD, August 2011.
FOOTNOTES:
1- Abstract/Executive Summary of “The History of Women as Speakers: When Women Spoke Up, They Changed History”
2- Thompson, William, Appeal from One Half the Human Race (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1835). This is excerpted from Dale Spender, Women of Ideas: And What Men Have Done to Them (London: Pandora Press, 1988): 394
3-Janet Stone and Jane Bachner Speaking Up (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1977): 4.

Do we need a Commission to Provide Positive Images for Women and Girls?

Do We Need a Commission To Provide Positive Images for Women and Girls?

Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis joined Senator Kay Hagan and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin on Capitol Hill July 13 to introduce a bill that would support efforts to improve the image of girls and women in the media. http://politic365.com/2011/05/09/geena-davis-former-fcc-commissioner-deborah-taylor-tate-launch-groundbreaking-commission-on-media-images/ The National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media would be chaired by Davis and former FCC Chairman Deborah Taylor Tate. In a statement to the press, Davis said:

“I am proud to join with Sen. Hagan and Rep. Baldwin to promote gender equality and positive portrayals of women and girls in the media. What children see affects their attitudes toward male and female roles and impacts the value they place on girls and women in society. The Healthy Media for Youth Act will help ensure we are creating a positive media environment for all our children.”

You may remember Geena Davis in her memorable role as one of the stars of Thelma and Louise. But taking on an advocacy role on behalf of girls and women is something she is obviously passionate about, clearly less celluloid and more cellular. It’s a hard road for today’s girls transitioning into puberty and young adulthood. The images of teenagers and young women found in TV and films are unattainable in real life and haven’t kept pace with the real opportunities girls have to excel in academics, sports and leadership. Instead, we find exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies, which is linked to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls.

Women—and their body parts—sell everything from food to cars. Popular film and television actresses are becoming younger, taller and thinner. We are led to believe- and that “we” includes mothers and grandmothers — that if we can just lose those last twenty pounds, we’ll have “everything” —the perfect marriage, loving children, great sex, and a rewarding career. Ha!

Why are standards of beauty continuing to be imposed on women, the majority of whom are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models or actresses that surround us? And film and TV provides no balanced view, showing role models who are able to think critically and demonstrate the complexity of being a good citizen?

The media has an enormous impact on the psychology of women, and the present array of images is negative. When it comes to shaping attitudes and expectations in a more positive way, Geena Davis knows that women in her industry do make a difference:

“When there is a woman working as a writer or producer in a film, there is a greater chance that the film will include more positive images of women and girls,” Davis said.

The concept of a Task Force on the Media made me think: Isn’t it everyone’s job to promote healthy, balanced, and positive images of girls and women, and not only in the media? And aren’t real experiences at least as important as celluloid (or digital) images? Press coverage of positive role models can highlight positive social changes with regard to women’s advancement; for instance, Iceland’s new President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first democratically-elected female president of a country, notes press coverage of her inauguration: “A woman in a turquoise dress surrounded by men in black ties.”

What can each of us do in our communities to ensure that girls and young women develop their intellects and their self-concept in a positive way? For one thing, we can lobby our local press to cover the academic achievements of girls and women. Second, we can highlight female role models in business, politics, and professional life. University students often tell me how much they appreciate seeing “older women” with particular expertise speaking at conferences because they realize, “Okay, I get it. That’s what a woman leader looks like, and sounds like.”

The actual pace of change with regard to women’s advancement into top executive positions is stunningly slow but Geena Davis means to change that by confronting the role of media in perpetuating sexist stereotypes. To use Davis’ language, when women speakers convey that they are “healthy, balanced, and positive” with a can-do attitude, people will listen. Those positive values will shape the future in a way that benefits everyone, including boys and men. Think of the repercussions when women present fresh ideas to the City Council or present new policy proposals at a staff meeting, and (someday), when more women Meet the Press or Face the Nation. Having a Commission focus on the media’s representation of girls and women is one step towards achieving a more equitable society.
http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_beauty.cfm