Feminism & the Enemy Within

on 08/16/2015 - 06:12 pm

One of the most common used criteria in ‘measuring’ women’s battle for equality, is in counting the number of women who hold high-level positions in the private and public sector. The problem with this, is that it fails to take into account the extent to which women in society are all too often their ‘worst enemy’. As Eleanor Smeal, former president of NOW and Founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), said “You can’t count on any woman, once she gets some power, not to sell other women out” (The Second Stage by Betty Friedan).

This phenomenon is explained by Katherine Van Wormer in Confronting Oppression, Restoring Justice, “The threat of violence against women and other minorities who oppose the status quo is a strategy used the world over by the oppressor group to maintain power and control… Because gender roles are assigned within the family and because the norms of patriarchy are so often learned at the mother’s knee, oppression on the basis of gender can be considered the most enduring of all oppressions…”

Betty Friedan in The Second Stage explains how this phenomenon has come into play by feminists of the past, and present, in promoting an alpha world (Is ‘Alpha’ Male Leadership Responsible for Modern Societies’ Problems?), “Contemporary feminism has taught us to reject the values conventionally associated with our sex. We are expected to pursue the male standards of success… simple dominance, either by winning the rat race or, if all else fails, by dominance over women…Through the 1970’s we argued what kind of equality we wanted. Did we want equal access to the same system or the power to change it? Can you change the system only by becoming a part of it? Once you are in it, does it change you instead? We discovered that it is easier to fit in than to restructure. When the “male” standard is regarded as the “higher” one, the one with the most tangible rewards, it is easier for women to reach “up” than to convince men of the virtues of simultaneously reaching “down.” It has proved simpler – though not simple, God knows –for women to begin traveling traditional (male) routes than to change those routes. It is simpler to dress for success than to change the definition of success.”

Van Wormer describes the oppressive society as one which “stresses opportunity over equality, individualism over collective thought, and competition over cooperation [creating] oppression and exploitation as people who do well come to dominate others [and in which these] values reverberate throughout the system and are reflected in the socialization practices, cultural belief systems, the mass media, and economic and political institutions...”

The failure of women with high-power government posts and corporate positions in the past decades to effectively change the tides of the past, is in part responsible for producing  work-forces which are consistently demonstrating inefficiency rates of 75-95% (see my blog Why Emotional Intelligence Isn’t Enough), as well as an unstable global economy, doomed to continue on its downward, spiral descent for decades to come – if we don’t change our old ways.  

As Daniel Goleman surmises in Working With Emotional Intelligence, “Old ways of doing business no longer work; the increasingly intense competitive challenges of the world economy challenge everyone, everywhere, to adapt in order to prosper under new rules. In the old economy, hierarchies pitted labor against management, with workers paid wages depending on their skills, but that is eroding as the rate of change accelerates. Hierarchies are morphing into networks; labor and management are uniting into teams; wages are coming in new mixtures of options, incentives and ownership; fixed job skills are giving way to lifelong learning as fixed jobs melt into fluid careers.

As business changes, so do the traits needed to survive, let alone excel. All these transitions put increased value on emotional intelligence. The ratcheting upward of competitive pressures puts a new value on people who are self-motivated, show initiative, have the inner drive for outdoing themselves, and are optimistic enough to take reversals and setbacks in stride. The ever-pressing need to serve customers and clients well and to work smoothly and creatively with an ever more diverse range of people makes empathic capabilities all the more essential…

Then there is the challenge of leadership supply: The capabilities needed for leaders in the next century will differ radically from those valued today. Competencies like change catalyst, adaptability, leveraging diversity, and team capabilities weren’t on the radar a decade ago. Now they matter more each day.” 

And, here I make the same call as Betty Friedan did a quarter century ago in The Second Stage “I call the organizations, I call the daughter, I call the mothers… I call the sons and the lovers and the husbands to a new place, a new stage of the women’s movement: the most life-affirming revolution that ever was, this great unfinished revolution, knowing that when we take this new step there will be the power to turn the values of this nation away from selfish material greed and back to the largest interests of life again. Move!"