The Washington Post
What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Liveby Celinda Lake
Women are the most powerful force reshaping the future of America. Stronger than political parties, mightier than religious differences, able to leap cultural schisms in a single bound, women are quietly exerting a unified power to make changes in our culture and in commerce, meeting in the middle to achieve their goals. But they're not using traditional means such as getting together and voting or banging on closed doors to demand equal access. In virtually every arena where American women are causing a sea change, they are bypassing the traditional settings that ignore their needs and are creating parallel circuits, which, in turn, then affect the old standards. Across political, religious, racial, and class differences, this new, vital, female center is heralding the most significant change in American culture in the past century.
Two of the hottest trend-spotters in America -- Celinda Lake, a leading political strategist for the Democratic party and one of the nation's foremost experts on electing women candidates, and Kellyanne Conway, a leading conservative pollster and president and CEO of The Polling Company, INC. -- themselves cross the aisle to reveal the ways in which a newly defined, united power base among women is reshaping the state of our nation much more than the two-sided politics of Left and Right. Using the eye-opening results of interviews, focus groups, and polls (three of which were created especially for this book) that they've conducted, Conway and Lake demonstrate how women are getting what they want and need by rejecting outdated traditions and expectations that no longer fit their reality. They are breaking the old rules about when and whether to marry and have children, living fully and equally as singles, and creating flexible, inclusive workplaces that don't sacrifice family or sanity. They are taking charge of the marketplace, controlling $5 trillion annually as the primary purchasers of homes, cars, appliances, and electronics. They are making their mark at ages twenty, forty, sixty, and beyond, drawing strength, inspiration, and intellectual stimulation from other women.
And that's just the beginning. In this smart, exhilarating book, Conway and Lake -- who often fall on opposite sides of the country's most polarizing debates -- come together to seek out what women buy, what they believe, how they work, how they live, what they care about, what they fear, and what they really want. By delving beneath the radioactive, hot-button issues, Lake and Conway discovered common causes with which women are inventing a new age of opportunity -- doing it their way and, in the process, improving life for all Americans.
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What Women Really WantHow American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live
By Celinda Lake
Free PressCopyright © 2005 Celinda Lake
All right reserved.
Introduction: America in HER Image
At a recent focus group composed of working women and men, a male executive stated, "A successful day for me is when I don't have to talk to anyone." As several men in the room nodded in agreement, the women stared at him incredulously. They just didn't get it.
If men feel more in control when they are left alone, women thrive on collaboration within a collection of interconnecting networks. "For me a successful day is when all my relationships are clicking," countered a woman in the focus group.
It's not exactly news that men tend to isolate while women communicate; the news is the way this one simple reality has sparked a movement. Cubicle by cubicle, neighborhood by neighborhood, on playgrounds, in coffee bars, on commuter trains, at community and school functions, in shops and health clubs, at conferences and retreats, informal female networks are relaying information, offering support, solving problems, and making a difference.
A Revolution Without Fanfare
Eileen, an internist in her forties who specializes in women's health, likes to tell the story of her first anatomy class in medical school. "Our anatomy texts referred to the male as the human prototype, the biological ideal. Female anatomy was only discussed when it digressed from the male standard. Smaller bones, a uterus, breasts that interfered with easy dissection, a weaker musculature. It was ludicrous -- like saying children are merely miniature adults. But that was the attitude in the medical community. Some of those anatomy texts are still around, even though we know better today. Women aren't just smaller, weaker versions of men. They're unique."
The medical model that Eileen describes is a fitting metaphor for what it has meant to be a woman in America. Although women have made tremendous advances toward equality and self-determination in the past century, the strides were usually measured by how successfully they adapted to the male standard. The canvas was already painted. The mold was already cast. Women were left to add the final touches, the accessories -- a dab of color here, a high-heeled shoe there. Success in business meant showing she could be tough like a man. Success in marriage and motherhood meant satisfying the needs of her family. Few women in their right minds remained single by choice; status accrued with marriage and children.
Even in recent, more enlightened times, women have typically been defined not by what they are but by what they are not. A woman on her own is unmarried. She is childless. If she is at home raising children, she is nonworking. Many women have thus been diminished by the language of the day.
Politically, women's influence for most of the 85 years since they earned the vote has been relegated to "soft" issues -- education, health, and family values. Candidates didn't talk to female audiences about the stock market, business, crime, or the military. They talked about schools or the environment. While these issues are still dear to them, women have broadened their scope of concern as their influence has grown.
The women's movements of the last century have accomplished a great deal in improving access and opportunity for women in business, education, and the military. Today, we are in a decidedly post-feminist age. More and more, women are not fighting for a place in the establishment. They are the establishment.
Without fanfare, almost stealthily, America has become women-centric, reaching its full expression in the first decade of the twenty-first century. As a not-so-silent majority of women -- from seniors to boomers to Generations X and Y -- confront the singular challenge of recasting the nation in their image, they are shaking the culture to its core. Some grew weary of pounding at the seemingly immovable fortress of the male norm. Some gave the male norm the heave-ho altogether.
As pollsters and analysts, we've noticed the shifting patterns in family and work practices, lifestyle choices, and voting trends for many years. But when we probed more deeply, we discovered a fundamental new reality that statistics alone couldn't measure. Women from all walks of life and political persuasions are saying, in effect, that they no longer define issues in accordance with male standards. Women have become the norm, and they want an America that better reflects their image.
What exactly does this female norm look like?
When we polled a representative sample of American women, we identified eight distinct archetypes, proving that women come from diverse experiences and points of view, even as they share many common goals. We didn't always find agreement on the means, but we often found agreement on the ends. These eight archetypes are not abstract; they are based on the real women we surveyed. Along a broad continuum of change, some women are forceful advocates, while others are waging quieter revolutions, and still others are on the sidelines waiting to be lifted up.
These are the faces of American women, portrayed in our polling.
Feminist Champion: A politically engaged liberal, this highly educated, upwardly mobile woman is an activist for women's and children's issues. She tends to be more secular than others and holds strongly pro-choice views. She represents a mix of ages (the largest percentage being between 40 and 49) and she may be married or single. Devoted to her career and community, she is strongly motivated by values of equality and opportunity. You might find her at a pro-choice rally, a benefit for third world women, or working on a political action committee.
Suburban Caretaker: She is the lynchpin of home and community, typically a white, suburban wife and mother in her thirties and forties. A comfortable family income allows her to stay home with the kids, if she chooses, or to work part-time. Spirituality, and often religion, are important to her, and she views herself as the caretaker of the emerging generation, making her deeply invested in the moral standards of her community and nation. She focuses on education and health care and now tends to be a conservative "values" voter. You might find her at a PTA meeting, organizing a church event, or cheering her son or daughter at the fieldhouse or dance recital.
Alpha-Striver: She didn't get the memo that women can't "have it all," and she is determined to excel both professionally and personally. Her high income, investments, and advanced education give her a wide array of options. She is likely to be a "junior senior," between the ages of fifty and sixty-four, either married or single, and often a mom. Relatively liberal and engaged politically, she views herself as an agent of change. You might find her at a corporate conference, a county board planning meeting, or taking her high schooler on college interviews.
Multicultural Maverick: Young, single, urban, and multiethnic (White, Latina, African American, Asian), she is an individualist rather than a joiner, attracted to entrepreneurial endeavors. Her childless status gives her greater freedom, although she is strongly connected to her parents and siblings and may live at home. Although she tends to be liberal in her political views, she is somewhat indifferent about voting, and she distrusts most politicians. You might find her at the health club, coffee bar, or bistro, hanging out with friends, at a family barbecue, or attending an Earth Day concert.
Religious Crusader: Deeply committed to faith and family, she is more likely to view issues through the prism of "right vs. wrong" than "right vs. left." A politically active Christian conservative or church-going Catholic, this woman in her forties is financially upscale, married, and a mother. If she works outside the home it is in her own business or in a career that provides a great deal of flexibility. You are most likely to see her at a religious service, a pro-life rally, or home schooling her children.
Waitress Mom: Usually a blue collar or service worker, this middle class mom is most concerned about achieving balance in her life and greater educational and financial opportunities for her children. While the majority of this group is married, the remaining third is split between single, divorced, and widowed. She tends to be a conservative-leaning moderate, a reliable voter who may "swing" to support candidates who address her core concerns of health, security and the economy. She considers herself a person of faith, but she does not regularly attend religious services. You are most likely to see her working a forty-hour week, grocery shopping at night, and taking her kids to the mall on weekends.
Senior Survivor: This over-65 grandmother is security- and health-conscious and may be either financially struggling or financially set, depending on her retirement means and monthly prescription bills. Politically centrist, she votes in nearly every election, and tends to support incumbents and the status quo. She may be married, widowed, or single. If her health is good, you might find her taking care of her grandchildren, getting involved in community organizations, working or volunteering part-time, and traveling. If she is frail or in poor health, you are most likely to find her at home, living with her children or in an assisted-living apartment -- relying on her daughter to take her shopping and to medical appointments.
Alienated Single: Economically marginal and politically disengaged, this woman tends to be young -- under 45. Divorced or never married, she may or may not have children. She is the least religious and the least educated of any group. Lacking a meaningful affiliation with a religious organization or supportive community, she tends to fly under the radar. She feels that she has little control over her future and worries about how she will take care of herself as she ages and is faced with health issues. Although she identifies herself as politically independent, she is usually not registered to vote. You are likely to see her in a low-wage job, rental apartment, and riding the bus or subway instead of driving. She is the least likely to be an agent of change, but she may be the beneficiary of changes others produce.
While our eight archetypes are incredibly diverse, we found it remarkable how often they voiced common dreams for themselves and their families, and how optimistic they were about the future. Even those on the lower end of the economic scale said their personal and work lives were much better than those of previous generations. In each category we found women who had by design or circumstances strayed from a self-limiting path to open up new options.
Even the most traditional of the women we surveyed recognized that they are living in a time when the cultural plates are shifting, opening up options that never existed before. As we interviewed them, we detected 10 major trends that are being driven by women in the categories of family life, work life, home life, aging, and public engagement. In these profound ways women are defining the terms of their lives -- and the nation's life -- according to what they want, what they believe, and what feels right. They are dispelling myths, not with loud words but through quiet action:
- The rapidly growing population of single women demonstrates that they're not ladies-in-waiting, but living fully. They're buying homes, building retirement portfolios, enjoying sex, and even having children. They are debunking the glum notion that being single is an anxious state that leads to panic as they approach 40. For the first time in memory, a woman's status in the world does not accrue solely with marriage and children.
- Women are looking at the culture of work in America and saying, "We can do better." Instead of rushing to join the rat race and elbowing their way to the top of the frenzied pack, women are engineering a new work mode in entrepreneurial ventures and nontraditional environments.
- Women are orchestrating their home and work lives in ways that improve their satisfaction and lower their stress. They are refusing to buy into the effort to have it all -- at least, not all at once. The Mommy Entrepreneur or Mommy Telecommuter tracks are increasingly common examples of women redefining their place in the world and at home.
- Women are unmasking the lies in the culture that are repeated so often that most people have come to believe them without question. For example, the reality of the beleaguered midlife woman "sandwiched" between the burdens of child care and parent care is not as common as we've been led to believe. The majority of seniors -- especially senior women -- are caregivers, not caretakers. Mixed-generational families most often live in homes owned and operated by the senior generation.
- Women are compressing the generation gap, negotiating the best of both youth and aging. They are first-time moms at 50, entrepreneurs at 65. They are replacing linear notions of age with stage of life, a fluid, borderless definition that reflects the way they really live.
- Generational compression has unified the fractured trends that once separated women by age. For the first time in history, women of different generations find they are more alike than not.
Women are erasing traditional lines of separation, sometimes meeting in the middle, eager for consensus, but often at least extending a hand to try to get there. As Arthur Schlesinger said many decades ago, "The middle of the road is definitely not the vital center. It's the dead center." The movement we're describing is definitely not middle-of-the-road. It's off-road and into the future.
The vision of the future detected in these trends is optimistic and often exhilarating. That in itself is a big change from the past, when women were defined by their struggles. A new age of opportunity will find women taking creative alternative routes to the centers of influence -- doing it their way and in the process forging a better way. "The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time," Eudora Welty wrote, "but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order...the continuous thread of revelation."
Copyright 2005 by Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway
Excerpted from What Women Really Want by Celinda Lake Copyright © 2005 by Celinda Lake.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Celinda Lake is president of Lake Snell Perry Associates, a research-based strategy firm in Washington, D.C. She is one of the nation's foremost experts on electing women candidates and on framing issues to women voters. American Politics calls Lake a "super-strategist or, better yet, the Godmother." She lives in Washington, D.C.
Kellyanne Conway is president and CEO of the polling company, inc., including WomanTrend, a research and consulting division that for years has tracked and interpreted important trends influencing and being influenced by women. She lives in Vienna, Virginia, and New York City. Both authors are quoted frequently in national media, including national television and radio.
Catherine Whitney has coauthored more than fifty books on legal, political, and social issues, including Where Have all the Leaders Gone? and The Weekend that Changed Wall Street. She lives in New York.
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