This month, Slate is republishing some of our favorite stories. Here's today's selection: In 1996, Michael Kinsley famously moved from Washington, D.C.’s political swamp to the salmon-spawning grounds of the Puget Sound to edit Microsoft’s first general interest Web magazine, the publication you’re reading now. His more or less weekly column, Readme, was a wonderfully unpredictable mix of political commentary, gentle ribbing of Microsoft executives, instructions on how to download Slate on Paper, and charming demonstrations of his inimitable humor. The last is on display in his 2002 column, “The Secret Vice of Power Women,” in which Kinsley shared what his recent marriage had taught him about female tastes in television.—June Thomas
(Note: In the marital relations system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups: the wives who watch Law & Order obsessively, and the husbands who don't. This is their story. Ka-chunk.)
Recently I got married, fairly late in life for that sort of thing, and have made astonishing discoveries. Most of these revelations turn out to be common knowledge. But one, I believe, has not been widely aired.
People's Exhibit A (my wife), Your Honor, is a formidable, intelligent woman with an important and challenging job and a full private life. (Also undeniable loveliness and charm, which are not strictly relevant to the present case.) She doesn't squander her time. And yet she spends many hours a week watching reruns of Law & Order—often back-to-back (the shows, that is).
It would be misleading to call her a fan. Law & Order, the long-running crime drama, is not just one of her favorite TV shows, or even her very favorite. Other than reruns of Law & Order, she has almost no interest in television at all. Specifically, she has no interest in any of the (to me) barely distinguishable Law & Order spinoffs and rip-offs (such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Double-Entry Bookkeeping, CSI, CSI: Miami, Mayberry R.F.D. and so on.) She's not even interested in new episodes of Law & Order itself. She couldn't tell you what night it's on and has no view about what this country is coming to when a man like Fred Thompson can be plucked from the obscurity of the United States Senate and entrusted with the responsibility of running the prosecutor's office on Law & Order.
Nor does she care—or even, possibly, notice—whether it is Michael Moriarty or Sam Waterston who is being unvarnished in any episode she may be watching. Don't ask her whether the female assistant district attorney is the blonde or one of the brunettes. Don't attempt to amuse her by predicting what demographic category the judge will be from. ("They've had four black women in a row, so I'm thinking white man. No, I know, that's ridiculous, so I'll go with white woman—but in a wheelchair. Whaddya think, Honey? Honey?? Ouch, that hurt. OK, never mind.")
Exhibit A and I assumed that this was our little secret. Perhaps it had to do with our weather here in Seattle, which affects some people oddly. Or too much coffee. But then we had a visitor from the East Coast who announced that his wife was about to become the TV critic of a major newspaper. "And the amazing thing," he added, "is that she never watches TV except for reruns of Law & Order."
Good grief. I began making discreet inquiries. My closest chum in Washington is a political columnist and TV pundit. I thought I knew her pretty well. Turns out that for years, on all those evenings when I assumed she was at parties to which I wasn't invited, she was at home watching reruns of Law & Order. The dean of a major business school poured out a similar confession, as did a senior editor at a newsmagazine. The girlfriend of one of my Slate colleagues. Half the women at the University of Texas (according to another Slate colleague, who may be exaggerating). Another Washingtonian, this one a teacher, though her husband says she is "drifting back to C-SPAN." Always women. Always high-powered. Always Law & Order. Always reruns. What on earth is going on?
It is not a cult, because a cult is communal. Sex and the City has a cult following: Women, especially, watch it together and/or discuss it the next day at work. New episodes are considered, on balance, a good thing. The obsession with Law & Order is something different. Far from discussing it with one another, women seem to watch it alone and may be unaware that anyone else shares the habit.
Exhibit A may be an extreme case. In a rare glimpse into this secret world, Molly Haskell wrote an essay last April for a local section of the New York Times in which she frankly and courageously labeled herself a Law & Order addict. But she claimed to discuss the show freely with other addicts. She also described her addiction as an essentially New York phenomenon, which suggests that even Haskell does not appreciate the full extent of the situation.
This would all be merely curious except for one ominous recent development. Law & Order reruns used to be scattered across the cable schedule like wildflowers. (Or weeds.) To catch them all, you needed to be able to play the remote control like Paderewski. More important, you had to control the remote control. Under these circumstances, only the smarter and more high-powered women were able to indulge this temptation. Now, though, TNT cable has exclusive rights to Law & Order reruns and, near as I can tell, runs them more or less all the time. That means Law & Order addiction is now available to all women with access to even basic cable.
This presumably is just the kind of chic new social problem the Democrats are being advised to rebuild their party around, now that George W. Bush has solved all the old ones. The new Democratic leader in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, is just the kind of dynamic, smart, take-charge person who can …
Uh-oh. Do you suppose …?
Women in positions of power are women who hold an occupation that gives them great authority, influence, and/or responsibility. Historically, power has been distributed among the sexes disparately. Power and powerful positions have most often been associated with men as opposed to women. As gender equality increases, women hold more and more powerful positions, due to policy and social reform.
Accurate and proportional representation of women in social systems has been shown to be important to long-lasting success of the system. Additionally, a study shows that “absence is not merely a sign of disadvantage and disenfranchisement, but the exclusion of women from positions of power also compounds gender stereotypes and retards the pace of equalization".
Position of power
Occupational power refers to power over coworkers in the field. Positions of power can exist in almost any setting, from small scale, unofficial groups or clubs, all the way to the obvious leaders of nations or CEOs of companies. These more official situations are found in many areas, such as government, industry and business, science and academia, the media, and many other sectors.
Gender as a factor
Positions of power and gender are very intertwined. As one study pointed out, “Power differences frequently underlie what appear to be gender differences in behavior; as society is currently configured, power and gender are never independent". As such, gender relates to power in the different ways power is acquired, used, and manifested. A 1988 journal article summarizes this relation between gender and power: "the idea that women and men differ in power motivation is reinforced by history and culture. In the history of the west, certainly, women have had less access to most forms of power than have men. Many people believe that men are interested in power and getting power while women are not. Others hold that men and women differ in the ways that they establish, maintain and express power". Additionally, studies have shown that increasing women’s participation in leadership positions decreases corruption, as “women are less involved in bribery, and are less likely to condone bribe taking”. A study on gender and corruption from 2000 also found that “cross-country data show that corruption is less severe where women hold a larger share of parliamentary seats and senior positions in the government bureaucracy, and comprise a larger share of the labor force”.
In addition to the male-female split in the distribution of positions of power, many other factors play a role in who has power. Race, class, sexuality, age, and other factors all play a significant part in who is in control. These factors play in especially when coupled with the gender difference: research from the Journal of the National Association of Social Workers has found that the “double burden of racism and sexism exacts a toll on their mental health and restricts their opportunities”. Additionally, according to another study, "the degree to which a system successfully includes women can indicate a propensity for the system to include other disenfranchised minorities".
Traditional roles and stereotypes
Traditional roles for men and women in most cultures have relegated women to working in the home primarily. This traditional role of fostering and nurturing others ensued from various sources, but the results are a decrease in the value of work done by women and a decreased ability to work outside the home. This is paired with the societal expectation of the woman to take care of the home and family, and with that the lack of male support in the caretaking of the home. This all leads to the expectation that women have responsibilities in the home and often plays a part in occupational sexism.
Other traditional views of women relegate them to certain occupations. The view of women as caretakers of the family extends beyond the familial unit to others. Women have traditionally been seen as caretakers, of both people and other beings and things However, this caretaker occupation has most often been a subordinate one, under the direction of a superior, usually a man. The example of the vastly female-dominated nurse occupation, 95% women as of the 2000s, reflects this, as it is the doctors that ultimately are in charge and have the power in the nurse-doctor relationship.
Traditional stereotypes of women make them out to be much more emotional and irrational than men, and thus less suited for many important jobs. However, it has been found that while there is some basis to the stereotype, it does not hold true universally under statistical scrutiny. One survey based in South Africa found that "over 30 per cent ... are of the opinion that women are too emotional to be able to handle high level leadership positions"; evidently, stereotypes persist and still take effect.
Studies show that "it is common for stereotypical ideas about women's abilities to perform well in leadership positions to inform people's perceptions about women leaders".
Further information: Women in government
For many years and in most regions of the globe, politics had not allowed women to play a significant role in government. Even in the early 1900s, politics were viewed almost exclusively as the domain of men. However, women’s movements and culture-changing events such as World War II gradually increased women’s rights and roles in politics. Many factors go into the degree of female participation in governments across the world. One 1999 study found: "[the] electoral system structure, left party government, the timing of women's suffrage, the share of women in professional occupations, and cultural attitudes toward the role of women in politics each play a role in accounting for variation in the degree of gender inequality in political representation around the world”. Even still, there are many other factors that play a serious role in female participation in government. There is a significant “perceived liability” to a party of having a female candidate for office, according to a 2005 study. Even today, no country in the world has 50% or higher female participation in a national legislature, and 73% of countries have less than 20% female participation.
There are multiple levels of power positions in the government from the local level to the national level. Accordingly, there are different degrees to which women partake in these different levels. For example, studies have found in India that "large scale membership of women in local councils" can be more effective in exerting influence, such as over crime rates, than "their presence in higher level leadership positions". However, it is important to have women at all levels of government to ensure the representation as well as enacting of women's interests.
Women were deprived of exercising political power in every country until granted the right to vote. After earning the right to vote, it often took decades for women to turn out to the polls in numbers proportional to their male counterparts. In the U.S. today, women are statistically more likely to vote than men, a pattern that occurs in certain countries, such as Scandinavian countries, while the opposite occurs in others, such as India. Scandinavian countries are also some of the countries with greatest female representation in government positions. Exercising the right to vote is a reflection of the power women feel they have in their political systems.
Today, women are enfranchised in all countries with a legislature other than Saudi Arabia. A 2006 study demonstrated that “although women have the legal right to vote and stand for elections in almost every country of the world, cultural barriers to women’s use of their political rights, including family resistance and illiteracy, remain”.
Many countries have instituted quotas dictating a minimum number of women to be given elected positions in governments. In general, the quota system has acted as a fast-track to incorporating greater female representation into the governing systems. Several countries, such as Rwanda, which have established quota systems successfully have even recently surpassed traditionally highly gender representative countries based on the quota requirements. However, there are still flaws to quota systems and there is some controversy over the effectiveness of representation, as some studies have found actual policy change to be limited.
International bodies such as the UN have established goals for female representation in governing bodies. Thirty percent of elected position seats was recommended as the critical mass necessary to gain effective policy from female representation. However, even these international bodies that promote female empowerment on many scales themselves lack proportional gender representation. On Wikipedia’s List of current Permanent Representatives to the United Nations, of the 192 representatives, only 32 are women, which is only 16.67% female, barely over half of what they recommend for governing bodies. Additionally, of these 32 countries represented by women, only three, the United States, Singapore, and Luxembourg, are considered core countries, making women-represented core countries only an even smaller percentage.
Industry and business
Further information: Women CEOs of the Fortune 500, Women in business, and Gender representation on corporate boards of directors
Most top and high-power positions in businesses and companies are held by men[where?]. Women currently hold 4.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles and 4.4 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO roles. Research has shown “a consistent difference favoring men in accessibility to, and utility of, resources for power”. Thus, business and industry worldwide still sees a harsh split between the genders in terms of who has control.
However, having women in leadership positions can be in the company’s best interests. Studies have found that gender diversity in top-level boards means broader perspectives and opinions, which result in more comprehensive outcomes. A study on firms in Denmark found that “the proportion of women in top management jobs tends to have positive effects on firm performance, even after controlling for numerous characteristics of the firm and direction of causality”. Additionally, a 2004 study from Bottom Line found that: “Companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest women’s representation”.
In order to try to achieve greater gender equality in workplace leadership positions, the European Union established a goal to have 40% women in non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies by 2020.
During the 1980s, many pushed for pay equality for women. Unfortunately, this did not lead to greater employment of women in higher roles. New tactics need to be enacted in order to give employers incentives to hire more women, specifically for management and executive roles. “Women make up less than 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, hold less than 25% of management roles, and just less than 19% of board roles globally.” While CEOs of companies are working toward creating more female employees as leaders, the root of the problem is often not addressed. Discrepancies often occur between qualities of leaders and qualities of women as leaders. Once women are respected and given credibility in the workplace, they will have the ability to occupy higher positions. “A significant body of research shows that for women, the subtle gender bias that persists in organizations and in society disrupts the learning cycle at the heart of becoming a leader.” Once this bias is rectified, women will be able to gain leadership positions in their companies and/or organizations.
The glass ceiling
In the workplace, both in the public and private sector, the opportunities available to women are trumped by a glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is a phenomenon in which women in the workplace, climb the corporate ladder through with qualifications equal to those of their male counterparts only to find that they cannot proceed past a certain point due to gender stereotypes and their implications. These gender stereotypes create barriers for women trying to reach positions of power which is responsible for creating and influencing the glass ceiling effect. The glass ceiling most directly affects those women who spend many years working in an industry to build up achievements and a status of credibility in order to be considered for positions of power within the company or industry. Yet despite their competence, women are not offered top CEO positions because of their sex and existing stereotypes that say that women are not cut out to head such big responsibilities. However, when these women's achievements are ignored and their success halted because of ignorant stereotypes, they are not the only ones affected. Many young women entering the workforce often look up to these driven women and aspire to achieve many of the same dreams. Yet when these young women witness their mentors and idols failing to achieve their dreams because of gender inequality, a culture begins to develop amongst women where they do not feel worthy of power and struggle with self empowerment. This is an immense reason why a lot of women do not chase after positions of power because of a lack of self-worth brought on by gender stereotypes and inequalities.
The glass ceiling is continuing to effect women today, but with forced attention on gender equality, women will be able to break though this invisible ceiling and effect change in the corporate world. While companies are shifting toward greater gender diversity in the workplace, it is still necessary to identify and rectify why women are not gaining leadership positions, even though equal pay for equal work exists. Evidence shows that organizations who play an active management role in diversity in the workplace have positive results. Active management in diversity has led to pay equity, more flexible schedules, and equal access to advancement opportunity. Using innovation in the workplace and installing unconventional programs has landed success in employing more women.
In academia as well, much remains to be accomplished in terms of gender equality. Many departments, especially those in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, are heavily male-dominated.
Women achieve disproportionately less prestige and success in academia than their male counterparts. They are less likely to be tenured and to receive promotions to more influential or powerful positions. Women in academia also earn a lower income, on average, than their male counterparts, even when adjusted. While hiring of women in academic fields has been on a slight rise, it is mainly in entry-level occupations and not for high-level positions where women are most lacking. Integrating women more thoroughly into academia is important to developing future gender equality as well as greater research outcomes. These high disproportions in fields that are seen as being male fields are the consequences of gender socialization that funnel women into specific fields, otherwise known as "care" fields, such as teaching.
Example of success
According to the Pew Research Center, after extensive research, the key barrier for why women either are not advancing in their careers or are not being viewed as competitors for top positions in companies is because there are “many interruptions related to motherhood that may make it harder for women”. Forbes provides scenarios that even if women have full-time jobs, they are still the one responsible for any family dilemmas rather than men. David White argues that men during the 1960s, as implemented in his study, “being the sole provider for the family gave men a significant amount of power in their homes and contributed to feelings of male superiority”. Economics research states that culture can “transmit values and norms that last for centuries and even millennia” and they have “nothing to substantiate them except handed-down beliefs”. This research indicates that one reason women are not advancing in top positions in businesses is because of gender norms that have perpetuated into the 20th century.
Most countries in Africa leave women without easy avenues to powerful positions in any area. However, there are some exceptions, such as Rwanda. Rwanda, with their new constitution after the conclusion of the Rwandan Civil War, it was written in that 30% of policy-making positions must be allocated to women. In 2003 with the first election of the new constitution, Rwanda surpassed Sweden to be the country with the highest percentage of women in its parliament with 48.8%.
Norway, Sweden, Finland, and other countries in Scandinavia have had long-established parliaments and have gone through a long, slow process of integrating women into power positions. As a result, Sweden is the country with the second highest rate of female participation in government, behind Rwanda.
The Middle East is home to some of the most female-oppressive countries, such as Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to vote. However, some countries, especially more liberal ones such as the United Arab Emirates, many women are making progress toward greater power.
The prime example of integration of women into powerful positions in Latin America is Argentina, the first country in the world to adopt a quota system, requiring 15% female participation in the electoral system in 1990. Additionally, Chile’s current president is a woman, Michelle Bachelet.
One of the highly significant things and provisions introduced by the new Companies Act of India, is the mandatory inclusion of at least one woman director to the Board of every prescribed class of companies in India. This provision can be considered as revolutionary initiation by the Government of India, for the purposes of empowerment of the women in the Indian Corporate world thereby strengthening and promoting contributions of women to the economic progress of the country.
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