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Sex & Power

Sex & Power

3.3 3
by Susan Estrich
Updated with a new introduction by the author.

At the dawn of the 21st century, women in America are richer, more educated, and more powerful than before. So why is it, Estrich asks, that they account for a minuscule percentage of the nation's top executives, politicians, lawyers and professors? A "searing" report (Rocky Mountain News), filled with personal


Updated with a new introduction by the author.

At the dawn of the 21st century, women in America are richer, more educated, and more powerful than before. So why is it, Estrich asks, that they account for a minuscule percentage of the nation's top executives, politicians, lawyers and professors? A "searing" report (Rocky Mountain News), filled with personal stories and startling statistics, Sex & Power dares to tell the truth about men and women, and how power is divided between them.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A timely, original, and truly useful contribution...This is a good book-humane, practical, and deeply reasonable. It exhorts us to take our fate into our own hands, reminding us of the unprecedented power that women now have, while still acknowledging the obstacles that face us. Her voice is clear, yet nuanced. If your feminism has been snoozing, this will make it up." —Washington Monthly

"Engrossing...an important corrective to the notion that gender no longer matters and that competence is all. Sex & Power asks the important questions." —Boston Sunday Globe

Barnes & Noble, Inc.

Book Review

Long before we learned the names of Anita Hill, Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, the convergence of sex and power intrigued us all. No one has been more involved with debates on issues of gender and dominance than law professor/commentator Susan Estrich. This collection of her recent ruminations on these prickly issues will gratify or anger you.
Boston Sunday Glode
It would be hard to find a woman better qualified to write a book about women and power than Estrich.
— (November 5, 2000)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The lack of women in top political and business spots is emblematic of the unfinished feminist revolution, declares Estrich, presidential campaign manager for Michael Dukakis, a noted law professor (University of Southern California) and newspaper columnist, and author of Real Rape. She highlights how much has changed for women who have entered institutions previously closed to them, yet how little has changed in the structures of those institutions. Outlining the legal cases that have promoted women's equality, Estrich observes, "Enforcing equality in an unequal world doesn't produce equal results." Successful women in formerly all-male fields are still extraordinary people, she argues, which means that ordinary women don't succeed where ordinary men do. Facts and stereotypes about motherhood hold back all women, she contends, exhorting women in positions of power to use that power to support other women: "if gender enters into [women's] evaluation, as we know it does, that doesn't change by ignoring it, but by recognizing the reality and acting collectively to respond to it." The corporations that are most women-friendly have become that way through a conscious decision-making process, Estrich points out. Publicity about the woefully low number of women on corporate boards of directors has also led to some increase in those numbers. Estrich's argument will appeal most to those who believe that the kind of social change she proposes will come from the top down. That her message isn't new emphasizes the importance, and perhaps the truth, of what she has to say. Agent, Amanda Urban, ICM. Author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Feminist law professor, political commentator, and consultant Estrich (Getting Away with Murder) has written a "state of the movement" report with mixed findings. Feminism brought down the "men only" signs, but almost 30 years later, women make up only 16 percent of the partners in the top law firms. Out of 2500 top corporate positions in the Fortune 500 companies, women hold 77. Estrich describes why: women still have family responsibilities that men don't, while jobs--and professional socializing--are designed for men, and concerns about sexual harassment inhibit both men and women. Thus, sex discrimination remains pervasive but is now subtle, so that middle-aged women who have taken the "mommy track" can't get back on the main line. The animus against Hillary Clinton, Estrich observes, exemplifies the resistance to ambitious women past their youth. Estrich combines anecdotes with practical advice for how to cope. What results is a fresh, accessible read. Recommended for public libraries.--Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Ann Hulbert
Sex and Power is, what else, ambitious. It's full of inspirational vigor, and full of argumentative rigor, too. For Estrich, proselytizing means analyzing, which saves her from sounding too preachy. She supplies personal stories, and she has plenty of statistics on how far women have yet to go.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A discouraging assessment of how far women have come, and how far women have left to go.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In The Middle Of A Revolution

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Madeleine Korbel Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state, the most popular cabinet member at home, a woman both respected and feared by world leaders for her toughness, may well be the most powerful woman in the world. She deserves her power, and she earned it, but that's not exactly how she got it.

I have known Madeleine for twenty years, having been excluded from, and having pushed our way into, many of the same meetings in various campaigns. In the eighties, when visiting potentates sat down with the Democratic foreign policy priesthood, Madeleine figured out that the way to avoid being left out was to invite everyone to her house and cook the dinners, which she did for many years. That way, she got the best seat at the table and began and ended the conversations.

In 1988, Madeleine was in charge of foreign policy as we helped Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis prepare for his first presidential debate. Then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was in Boston for the day to help. I know it was the first time he saw Madeleine in action; I think it was the first time they'd met. Most members of the priesthood make you feel like an idiot even if you know perfectly well what you're talking about; Madeleine can make you feel smart even if you don't know what you're talking about. The result is that you'll listen better.

It was clear, from that day, how impressed Clinton was with Madeleine and how much he liked her. We all went out for dinner and drinks, and the three of us lasted the longest. But four yearslater, when Clinton was the nominee, Madeleine and I and a few other women dined together every night during the convention, while the priesthood huddled in a suite dividing offices in the next administration. Or so we assumed.

Madeleine was ultimately appointed ambassador to the United Nations, a job that carries with it a nice apartment in New York, five hundred miles from the circle of foreign policy power. She turned the position into more than it had ever been, because she was smart and politically astute, and maybe also because, there being no women in top foreign policy jobs in Washington, she would get invited to meetings that other UN ambassadors might not. She was an obvious candidate to replace Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a clear shot to be on the short list for the job.

I spoke to a number of women in the weeks before the announcement was expected. Should I write a column about what a great secretary of state Madeleine would be? Should I write to the president, start placing calls to people with his ear? Betty Currie worked for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, as did a number of other Democratic women my age. We knew about the direct line from Betty to the president long before Monica Lewinsky did. Madeleine has many friends in this group, including Betty. Don't do anything, I was told. Madeleine doesn't want us waging a campaign; we don't think it would help her; the president knows her, for goodness' sake. I didn't disagree.

What happened next made Madeleine secretary of state. A high Administration official leaked the short list of candidates to the press. Five men were being considered for the post. Madeleine wasn't on the list. In answer to questions concerning her absence, it was reported that she was in the "second tier."

This time, no one asked. Women-elected officials, pundits, pols, staffers, family members, even the public-responded with outrage at the slight to Madeleine, and made clear how much support she had for the job. In Madeleine's case, many of those expressing outrage had never met her, but they still felt this put-down personally, as women.

"It was the 'second tier' business that did it," Madeleine told me, when I saw her shortly after her appointment. She was convinced that she would never have been appointed secretary of state had it not been for that final put-down.

I think that's true.

But here is the more important distinction: What made the difference for Madeleine was not that the boys put her down-how many times had that happened?-but that the girls stood up. Why did it take one more door slamming to make us do that? Why didn't she ask us? Why did we need to be asked? Just like a woman, you might say. Look at the power that we had that we weren't even using. Imagine what the world might look like if we did.

As a girl growing up, I accepted without question inequities that my daughter would find laughable. Girls can't read the Torah. Only boys study shop. No girls on the math team. How fast do you type? But he has a wife and family to support. Were you really raped? Women don't do very well here. Don't take it personally; the only reason you didn't get the job was because you're a woman.

Every society, Margaret Mead observed, divides tasks between men and women, and while the divisions vary with the society, the rankings don't. What the men do, whatever it is, is considered more valuable, which makes men more powerful.

For two centuries, women in our society were confined by law to the separate and lesser sphere of home and family, while men made the rules, controlled the money, and enforced the boundaries of the two spheres. Women were presumed to be better parents, but were prohibited by various state laws from becoming lawyers or serving on juries; a woman could be a waitress but not a bartender, unless her husband or father owned the bar. The justification for the lines, in one form or another, was always at its core the same: women have children. Motherhood was destiny, whether or not you were a mother.

There have always been feminisms, as Wendy Kaminer puts it, but almost all of them start by looking at the world through the lens of gender, and seeing how it matters.

A critical perspective challenges the existing order by exposing its political core. What seems inevitable is revealed as socially constructed. Your eyes are opened. Click, we called it, the minute you got it. Feminism changed the way I looked at the world. It was as if someone had handed me a new set of questions that I'd never thought of, questions that made clear that it wasn't just me, that I wasn't crazy, that I had a right to better treatment. Click meant they wouldn't treat a man this way. It was not the "divine law of the Creator," as one justice put it in denying a woman the right to practice law, but the man-made order that put men on top.

By the time I walked into an employment agency at twenty-one, and was steered to the secretarial/clerical side-notwithstanding my college degree and supposed management experience-I understood that I was being asked how fast I could type because I was a woman, that men had made that decision, that it wasn't fair, and that someday I could put an end to questions like that. I was proud to call myself a feminist.

What I remember isn't just the sense of seeing, but how it made me feel-angry, but also mobilized; ready to do battle, not only for myself, but for the other girls and women. How dare they? "A typewriter," my friend Suzanne used to say, "what an interesting machine. Tell me, how does it work?" "Like hell they don't," I wanted to say to the Harvard professor who told me on my second day of classes that women didn't do very well at Harvard Law School. I thought it, anyway. And I showed him. My women friends brought cookies and support. They took care of me. A year and a half later, I was the first female president of the Harvard Law Review. I also headed the National Organization for Women's first task force on employment agency discrimination. Four years after I was raped, I wrote the opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturning their rape corroboration requirement.

Feminism didn't just let me imagine that I could break into the boys' clubs, it gave me a reason to want to; a mission that was larger than myself, along with the armor to wear and the comrades to march with. Who could stop us?

There was a legal revolution going on in America. Civil rights legislation was being enacted and strengthened. While a constitutional equal rights amendment failed to win ratification, feminist lawyers won almost every major case in the Supreme Court, effectively eliminating gender lines from the law. The "men only" signs went down. We put on our dress-for-success suits, convinced we could beat the boys at their own game if only they'd let us play.

They did. We haven't.

Today, equality on the basis of sex is required by law in virtually every area of American life. There is no profession without a significant number of women coming in; in many, there are even a fair number in the middle. But the higher you go, the fewer you find. Thirty years after the passage of antidiscrimination legislation, twenty years after women first entered business and professional schools in significant number, the top ranks of corporate America remain 98 percent male. Most women continue to work in sex-segregated jobs, earning less than men, even when they are better educated. Police and fire departments have been sued, successfully, but 88 percent of police officers and more than 90 percent of firefighters are still men. A recent study of more than 200 job categories found that in all but three, men made more money than women. Among the top 2,500 top corporate executives in America, there are a total of sixty-three women.

Among the Fortune 500, only three companies are headed by women-exactly one more than twenty years ago. The 200 highest paid CEOs in America are all male. After countless "years of the woman," more than 90 percent of Congress is male. One state is dominated by female leaders; the other forty-nine are dominated by men. Women do not run the world. It is still a big story when a woman accomplishes something noteworthy. You still read about the first woman "this" and the first woman "that." Why?

Discrimination remains, albeit a far more subtle version than what I confronted at the desk of the employment agency years ago. The worst of it, these days, is that you can almost never be sure. Would they treat a man this way, I ask myself all the time, when a trade association misleads me to get me to speak for nothing when they are paying all the men; when the computer people at the firm ignore my constant pleas that my machine doesn't work, and then I discover that everyone else but me has been upgraded months ago? So you pitch a fit to get what you deserve, and they call you difficult. Show me a woman over forty who is successful and isn't considered difficult. Why do we have to be difficult to get paid, to get a working computer, to get ahead?

This is not conscious discrimination. No one declared, "Let's not pay her because she's a woman," or "Let's not give her a new computer because she's a woman." They just assumed I didn't need the money as much as the man, that I didn't crunch as many numbers or need to run sophisticated software. Unconscious discrimination is harder to recognize and more difficult to prove, which makes it a more insidious problem for women.

But this is also about us. We don't want it, or we don't want it enough to pay the price, push up the mountain, do what it takes. Women are promoted to partner or president less often than men in corporate America, but they also drop out in much higher numbers; many of those who could make it don't because they never signed up. We take ourselves out of the running, decide that the prize isn't worth it, or that the "mommy track" is good enough, better than killing ourselves to try to change the rules of the game for the next generation while a babysitter tends our children, if we've got to have them.

"For what?" women ask me every day, and I know what they mean.

For what should you give up your life, learn to play golf, and push your head against the wall every day? Who wants to be one of them anyway? We have come up with all the right explanations for why we don't have power, how our kids are more important, and life more worth living, and other things more essential than getting to the top of the slippery pole and telling everyone else what to do. We surrender without a fight. But we pay a price for it.

Everywhere I go, I meet women in their thirties, forties, and fifties, who are ready to go back to work full-time, or launch new lives and careers. They have all the credentials for what they want except that they are ten or twenty or thirty years older than the men and women they are trying to convince to hire them. And as hard as it is to balance and juggle, that is no longer the obstacle, because many of these women are ready to throw themselves in without balance. Their kids are gone; in many cases, so are their husbands.

But certain tracks have been permanently closed, and there's no getting back in, no second chance at bat. One of my older students did a survey of older female law school graduates, and their answers were exactly what you'd expect. They go to interviews with young men their children's age. Who wants to hire his mother to work for him? How is he going to be able to get someone's mother to pull an all-nighter? There's no flexibility for anything less. That's how it is. "How would you feel about going to Disneyland for a summer associate outing?" one older applicant was asked. She said she'd feel fine, she'd taken her children many times. It was not the right answer. "What was I supposed to do at Magic Mountain?" a former student of mine lamented. "Even my kids are too old for it."

"Dot.coms," you say. Surely those twenty-five-year-olds running Internet companies who work even longer hours than the lawyers and don't dress as well will open their doors wide to suburban women who missed the first part of this revolution. Dream on. This is a world where forty is old, and part-time barely exists. I love the exceptional stories as much as the next person, but I hear many more from women who just assumed there would be more choices, who thought they were doing the right thing by putting their families first. In the meantime, more than 95 percent of all venture capital goes to men.

Our life expectancy keeps getting longer, and yet the only years women can make it are precisely those years when we can have children. Why do this to ourselves, collectively speaking? Why set up a workplace where the only way to succeed is to pull an all-nighter? You may have less energy at fifty, but you have more experience, maturity, stability, and loyalty, which should count for something. How senseless not to take full advantage of that, not to figure out ways that those who don't fit in the round hole can nonetheless contribute. How many overqualified real estate brokers can a neighborhood support? How many degrees are going unused, potential untapped?

When people are not allowed to participate to their full capacity, when their autonomy is trampled and their spirits crushed, we all lose. It is not simply a question of victimhood, but of our collective loss. If it weren't for gender-if it weren't for the fact that it is middle-aged women who are being excluded, which doesn't seem unusual-the loss would be obvious.

And I meet younger women who may be destined to continue on that very path. It is a measure of how far we have come that so many young women today could believe that they don't face discrimination. They don't see a workplace structured for people with no child-care responsibilities as inherently discriminatory. When you point out how few women there are on top, they shrug and say, "Who wants to be there?" In the first five minutes, a female law review president will tell you that she doesn't want to live like a man or like the hard-driving women of my generation. She's not planning to make partner. Two years, and then pregnancy, and then who knows? I have never, ever heard a male law review president talk like that.

And what do I tell them when they send the baby announcements, go part time, tell me in advance that they have no intention of climbing the corporate ladder because they want to have a family? Do I tell them that they may be very, very wrong, may find themselves shut out later, may be demanding too little of others, including their husbands as well as their employers?

I do not. How could I? I say congratulations. I wouldn't trade my family for more power, or a partnership, or a presidential campaign. I joke that now I'm president of the "negligent mothers club," but for me, going on field trips comes before going on television. I got further in my career before having children, which gives me control that most young mothers don't have, but I also paid the price of waiting. The only time I ever regretted running a presidential campaign was when my fertility doctor told me that I might be too old to have a second child. I was lucky, and blessed; my son is seven now, but if I'd known what was ahead of me, would I have waited?

It was not so many years ago that women who did not work outside the home saw themselves as the victims of the nightmare cocktail question: "What do you do?" Deborah Fallows wrote a book nearly two decades ago based on her decision to leave the paid workforce to raise her children, and faced social ostracism for doing so. Today, drop-out moms are pictured on magazine covers happily trading in their briefcases, and the saying that "no one on her deathbed ever said she spent too little time at work" trips off tongues.

What sets tongues wagging is women who are "too ambitious." Women who put work ahead of family, women who marry for ambition, or stay married for it; these are women who make other women uncomfortable. In my generation, there's a name for it-Hillary.

One way to look at Mrs. Clinton's aspiration to public office is as a role model for other fifty-somethings who have put their ambitions on hold while supporting their husbands' careers. There is a genuine "my turn" aspect that you'd think women would find appealing. But many of them don't. In the weeks after Mrs. Clinton announced her senate candidacy, the big story was Hillary's "woman problem." Particularly among suburban white women, the initial reaction to the Clinton candidacy was overwhelmingly negative. Some polls among these women had her trailing by thirty points.

"Who does she think she is," one after another suburban woman told reporters sent to find out what women don't like about Hillary Clinton. Other comments sounded similar themes: too ambitious, too arrogant. "How does she leave the house," women were asking in the midst of the Monica-mess, "much less run for Senate?" Why does she put us through this? Even the liberal and loyal Ellen Goodman was wringing her hands, reduced to the argument that Hillary wasn't running against Hillary but against Rudy Guiliani, who would be much worse for women.

Hillary Clinton is a woman who wants to be in the center of the debate, on the cover of the magazine, on the floor of the Senate, and is willing to pay a price to get there. She thinks she's someone with something to say. She wants power. She was much more popular when she was standing by her man.

My girlfriends from law school started pulling back five to ten years after we graduated. Biological alarms blaring, they went in-house, of counsel, PTA. All the men I knew who'd gone to firms made partner. A day's mail could easily include a partnership announcement from a man and a baby announcement from a woman. "How many of your female classmates have become law firm partners?" Judge Shirley Abrahamson, the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, asked me. I was counting the women on one hand, compared to dozens of men, ratios that bore no relation to the composition of my law school class. She was horrified. The balance is impossible, I explained. She didn't disagree. But how are you going to take over if you're all dropping out? You can't change the rules if you're not in the room. You can't finish a revolution without getting in there and fighting. Women had been entering law in increasing numbers for more than a decade. What happened to the army?

I knew what my friends would say. All well and good. But this child has one mother. I have said the same thing many times in the last ten years. We put our families first.

In a man's case, putting his family first means providing for them. Men leave home, stay married, go weeks without seeing their families, and no one criticizes them for being ambitious. They set their sights high. We call them successful. Smart. Doing what it takes to succeed. When women do the same thing, we shake our heads. Too Hillary. A friend who is a successful businesswoman and the mother of four finds herself cross-examined by women she doesn't even know about how she is raising her children. Mothers who climb Mt. Everest are viewed differently than fathers who do, especially by the mothers who don't.

Consider the case of one very ambitious young woman who I came to know, Gina Occan of Lakewood, California. The conventional wisdom is that younger women are less ambitious than baby-boom feminists. Not Gina. She had a full scholarship at Harvard and had just finished her freshman year with a 3.5 grade point average when she came home for the summer and fell head over heels in love with Tomasso, the son of wealthy Orange County restaurant owners. Most of us have known someone like Tomasso. Handsome and irresponsible, he rode a motorcycle, wore fancy clothes, and swept Gina off her feet. It was a summer romance. He must have been irresistible to a girl who had spent her high school years making straight As in an all-girl Catholic school, and living in a small apartment with a mother who was determined that her daughter get the sort of education and opportunity that a teenage pregnancy had made impossible for her.

When she discovered she was pregnant, Gina returned home to have the baby, never seriously considering an abortion. She and Tomasso planned to return to Cambridge with their new daughter the next fall, where Tomasso would find work as a waiter while Gina completed her education. But after a series of quarrels, Gina and her baby moved out. Three days later, Tomasso sued for custody.

Tomasso's argument was that the child would be better off in southern California, where his parents could help take care of the baby, than in Cambridge, where she would be in day care for long days and nights. Tomasso and his parents won the first round, securing a temporary order that blocked Gina from taking the child out of state without permission. Instead of going back to Cambridge in September to begin her sophomore year, Gina went on welfare.

She was on welfare when I met her. To save money on attorneys, she spent her free time in a local law library, researching her rights. Even more important, she began a campaign to win the attention of the local stringer for the Los Angeles Times, believing that she needed publicity to reverse the decision of the local court and that the deck was stacked against her in Orange County. After weeks of peppering the stringer with letters, he wrote a short article for the newspaper about the girl who was being blocked from taking up a scholarship to Harvard. I had a talk radio show at the time in Los Angeles. I am a feminist, a former Harvard professor, a scholarship student. This story was irresistible.

Gina came up to Los Angeles a number of times to appear on my show, often bringing Baby Bailey with her. My own daughter would come with me on those days to play with the baby. My young producer, closer in age to Gina than I am, became her friend and confidante. We helped find her a high-profile lawyer who would take the case without a fee, and turn it into a feminist cause célèbre; we called in our contacts with local and national television to build pressure for her position. We vilified the judge at every opportunity. How dare he? How could he? What century was he living in? He reversed himself.

A few weeks after he did, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, a woman-herself a judge-whom I respect enormously. She was troubled by the case, because she knew the judge-he had actually been a student of hers when she was teaching part-time-and he wasn't a bad guy. We might be vilifying him as a sexist demon of another era who would deprive a hard-working girl of the Harvard education that she had dreamed of, but that wasn't the guy she knew. Could there be more to the case than met the eye?

I had never asked Gina whether any other colleges or universities had offered her a full scholarship. After all, I'd spent most of my adult life at Harvard. But one of the television reporters, in one of the last interviews, did. The answer was yes. The University of Southern California (USC) had offered her a full scholarship. It turned into a very negative story. It made the point that Gina could have been attending classes at USC instead of doing legal research and going on welfare. If she had taken the USC option, she might never have gotten the judge's decision reversed. But would her child have been better off?

How do you compare a father's desire to see his child on a regular basis with a mother's ambition to go to Harvard? How do you compare a relationship with grandparents who love a baby and want to care for her while her mother is in school, to a Harvard education and care by strangers 3,000 miles away? Was choosing USC over Harvard really too big a sacrifice to ask of an ambitious young woman?

It is a hard question, particularly for me. After ten years as a Harvard professor, after winning tenure and earning the title "Professor of Law," something few women had done, I resigned from Harvard Law School to teach at USC. My feminist colleagues, all four of them, were pretty much appalled. So were most of my male colleagues. I did it because I wanted a family. No one could think of a single man who had ever left Harvard to accommodate his wife. But after four years of commuting between Los Angeles and Boston, I had to make a choice. My daughter was born the next year. Three years later, my son followed. For years, I gave speeches about why my decision not to live by the boys' rules-not to let ambition, as they defined it, define me-was the best decision of my life. So why was I vilifying the judge for imposing the same set of priorities on Gina? Why was I helping her get her way? If Gina was right, had I somehow been wrong?

Women's groups are always a little taken aback when I read them the numbers from the various surveys, or just read down the list of major American corporations with one or no women on their boards in 1999. Everyone smiles in recognition when I tell stories about pitching a fit to get a computer, or trying to learn golf to fit in, or the kids who give it to their working moms. Been there. But somehow, even we are surprised by the numbers, having assumed-blame it on our gender training-that maybe it was just us.

For a while, when I gave speeches, I would carry around pictures of the two sides in the negotiation of the 1998 federal budget agreement. There is one picture of the Democrats, with the president walking away from the camera arm in arm with two men, who are each arm in arm with two more men, who are next to two more men. At the very end, struggling to keep up, is the back of Janet Yellin, the chairman of the council of economic advisers, the least powerful person in the picture, the only woman. On the other side, I have a picture of three dozen Republicans surrounding then Speaker Newt Gingrich, which looks particularly good on an overhead as thousands of eyes scan what might be, by my best guess, a female nose. The rest are male faces. But it's only the federal budget, I tell my audience. Nothing really important. It's only the Fortune 1000 that's 98 percent male at the top.

Is it really this bad?

The answer is no, which is what makes this moment an interesting one. It's not because the numbers are wrong, or because they use sloppy methodology, charges that some conservative women were reduced to making in response to the finding of a pay gap even at the very top, even controlling for everything.

We are not powerless. We are not in the same place we were ten years ago, or twenty years ago. I have lived those years, taught law during those years, banged my head against a few walls myself. And I have watched things change.

The issue all those men in the budget negotiations were discussing at the end was money for education, and the Democrats got more than they thought they would because the Republican negotiators were loathe to be labeled as anti-education, viewed as the "kiss of death" to female voters. There is a women's vote in this country, and it is a pro-child, pro-education, pro-choice vote, statistically speaking. There is hardly a politician of either party who does not understand the power of the "women's vote," of women's ways of looking at things differently than men, and their increasing willingness to express it, and to expect their agenda to be addressed. It may be all men in the room, but women put a good many of them there, and they know it.

We make 83 percent of all consumer purchases. We outlive men, and end up controlling as much as 90 percent of the wealth, depending on which studies you believe. Everywhere we turn, companies are appealing to us, as women, to buy their cars, fly their airlines, stay in their hotels, buy their cereal, take their vitamins, wash with their detergents or shampoos, even invest with their brokers.

The gloom and doom version of feminism has its numbers right, but it's all trees and no forest. American women have enormous power at their fingertips, particularly middle-class American women. They have more skill, more wealth, more political and consumer clout than ever before in history, more power than any group of women in the world. More power, if and when we choose to use it.

That's the punch line. Will we bring ourselves to use our power? Can we bring ourselves to recognize our common interest as women, and wield power on the basis of it? How many times must they say no before we do? Even to Madeleine Albright?

I am giving a speech to my Temple sisterhood at a beautiful brunch. I tell the story of a woman who decided to launch a proxy campaign to join her local all-male bank board, and won; she was a respected lawyer who had finally had it with asking; she got a list of the shareholders, mailed letters explaining her candidacy to all of them, and won. "Anybody in this room know how to do a mailing?" I ask the roomful of women. Get a list? Follow-up phone calls? That's what it takes to put together a sisterhood brunch, of course.

But that's only the beginning. The women in front of me, many of them my age, have plenty of experience in the public world. They could take on any board in the country if they used it. There are women who do public relations, lawyers, advertising execs, former bankers, artists, activists. If they were to decide today that United Airlines had gone long enough without a single woman on its board (as I write, they have none), I'd give it a week. I'd write the column. Maybe we could demand two women. It would be fun, even. So why don't we? Would things be better or worse if we did?

As a television commentator, you're paid to disagree. It's cheap entertainment; I've always thought it would be much more interesting to see on what points adversaries agree, but I don't run the show. I was busy disagreeing with Jennifer Dunn, a conservative Republican congresswoman, about Hillary Clinton or Monica Lewinsky when we stumbled upon a major agreement. "Would the Congress be a different place if half the representatives were women?" she was asked. She thought it would be, and I agreed. Do you have any doubt?

Imagine what the world would be like if half the nations' leaders were women. Imagine if half the lead-ers in our own country-governors, senators, city council, everything-were women. Would the schools be better, worse, or just the same? Would there be better support for childcare?

Imagine if half the insurance companies were run by women. Would contraceptives be covered? Would legislation be required so women could see a gynecologist?

Imagine if half the entertainment companies were run by women. Would there be different video games?

Imagine if half the Fortune 500 companies were run by women. Would more doors be open to women returning to the workforce? Would men find it easier to take paternity leave? Would there be more women in the number two and three and four jobs than there are now? Madeleine Albright has more women at the top than any previous secretary of state. Granted not every woman helps those below her, but qualified women still tend to hire other qualified women faster than men do. Most women in America don't consider themselves feminists, which is continually cited as a measure of the failure of women's rights to capture the imagination of American women. Many young women who are its most prominent beneficiaries run fastest in the opposite direction. But it doesn't really matter what people call themselves. Given how feminism has been practiced by radicals, caricatured by the media, and maligned by its opponents, it's impressive how many women do call themselves feminists, and how "feminism" manages to live on notwithstanding the declaration of its death on a newsmagazine cover at least once every five years.

What matters is how we women view ourselves and our progress. Do we see ourselves as women? Do we see women as equal to men? A 1997 poll by Peter Hart and Associates for NBC News concluded that 65 percent of American women believe that the country has not yet done enough to ensure equality for women. Other surveys back that up. The New York Times Magazine reported in a 1999 issue celebrating women that, at the rate we're going, it will be another 270 years before women achieve parity as top managers in corporations and 500 years before we achieve equality in Congress. Why in the world would we want to go at that rate?

Most professions are not organized to accommodate a woman's biological clock. The periods of most intense work are often just when it's time to have kids. Unconcious assumptions continue to block the paths of women trying to play by the rules, whether or not they are mothers. Important interactions take place around events that most women don't engage in. It is way too difficult to take time off to have a family and then come back and have a chance to fulfill your potential. The problem with the "mommy track" isn't that it represents a detour. A detour would work. The problem is that it's a dead end.

But none of that has to be the way it is. Two decades ago, the professions that are now sending women down dead ends didn't even admit them, and official firm functions in corporate America were routinely held at locations where women were simply excluded. If a woman wanted to attend, she had to enter by a back door and go to a private room. Routine.

The purpose of recognizing discrimination is not to become a victim, but a revolutionary. When I signed on, the idea was to get women to the top who would then change the rules for everyone. The first wave would pry open the door and then throw it wide open. But the first wave turned into a trickle. The Hillarys and Ginas are the exceptions, not the rule, suspect even by those who stand to benefit from their success, caught by a double standard composed by women as well as men. Even those of us who support them mostly don't want to be them. The rules are not on our side, and we know it. But we have the power to change them.

Very few companies have women on top, but almost every company has three senior women who can command attention if they act together. Almost every company depends on women as consumers. Legislative action may persuade companies that it is indeed possible to be both flexible and profitable; that has been the experience ever since the federal government started requiring larger employers to provide unpaid family leave. As women, we have the power to force any institution in our society to take notice, if we work together. But sometimes, even those of us in the business of power forget what we have. Even Madeleine Albright.

We have struggled for legal equality, and at least by some definitions, we've gotten it. But what we need isn't just equality. It is change. The only way to free the individual woman to become all that she can is for women to act as women, to wield power as women, so that as individuals we can be free. That is what made feminism a revolution. It's just not finished.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A timely, original, and truly useful contribution...This is a good book-humane, practical, and deeply reasonable. It exhorts us to take our fate into our own hands, reminding us of the unprecedented power that women now have, while still acknowledging the obstacles that face us. Her voice is clear, yet nuanced. If your feminism has been snoozing, this will make it up." Washington Monthly

"Engrossing...an important corrective to the notion that gender no longer matters and that competence is all. Sex & Power asks the important questions." Boston Sunday Globe

Meet the Author

The first woman president of the Harvard Law Review, the first woman to run a presidential campaign, Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California, a nationally syndicated columnist, a contributor to USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, a legal and political analyst who appears frequently on national television, and the author of four books.

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Sex & Power 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a great outline of issues that face women today in college and in the 'real world'. It provides a concise summary of issues facing women in society without coming off as too academic- a great read to find out where you stand on these issues.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Estrich makes some excellent points, but should also remember the critical role played by visibility! Visibility creates power and it can only be achieved with the same careful planning it takes to reach the corner office. I really believe it is a lack of both mentoring by the women who do make it to the top, and a lack of 'publicity planning' that is lacking. It's always the 'first woman' here, and the 'first woman' there. Being first only lasts as long as making the 'first mistake' which also hits the business page headlines. Achieving corporate and community visibility needs a consistent and planned effort. To really take charge of your career, whether you are still climbing the so-called ladder, or have reached the top rungs ¿ there is no substitute for creating a strategic 'personal' publicity plan. Your boss won't do it, and neither will your mentor (if you have one!). It is up to YOU. People have to know who you are, what you stand for, and why they should hire you, promote you, or do business with you. That's really taking charge of your career.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although there are some interesting stats albeit depressing about women and power, the book has a better bibliography than strong, smart content. When writing of her own rape, the author noted her plain shirt and culottes were 'nothing sexy at all.' This comment should have been omitted since it implies rape is a crime of sex not power and toward women with sexy clothes. Also on P.191, Estrich admits to calling her young assistant at a radio station 'hon' and 'sweetie.' This talk should never be allowed by a man or woman since it is an unprofessional way to talk to anyone in business. Later in the book, the author exhorts women to improve the work situation but yet she called her assistant 'girl.' Estrich writes that men commonly give credit to their skills after a promotion while women just say it was luck. Yet on p.264 she states she could not have made it to a certain point (president of the Harvard Law Review)without her friends and 'I was very lucky to find myself in an institution that prided itself on its merit system.' I found this book very weak especially the last few chapters. Find a better book.