Saturday, March 22, 2008

Equality Roundup

The home page of the New York Times online edition today has three articles about the equality of women.

At top center, with a picture, is the teaser, "At endowments and foundations, the glass ceiling is edging lower. Susan E. Manske oversees a $6.5 billion endowment for the MacArthur Foundation." In the article we learn that women are in charge of 20% of the 50 largest endowments and foundations, compared to 8% ten years ago. It's an increase, for sure. Whether it's a blip or a trend is not clear, and in any case it's not very impressive to have women doing slightly better in one such narrow sector.

Lower down is the headline in Europe, women are finding more seats at the table. This claim is based on a law in Norway that forces companies to appoint women as 40% of their boards of directors. In 1993, women held 3 percent of Norwegian corporate board seats; in 2002, it was 6 percent. Elin Hurvenes, founder of the Norwegian Professional Board Forum, said, "If organic growth is 3 percent every 10 years, it would have taken 100 years to get to 40 percent." Compliance has been achieved through tough penalties. Krister Svensson, who runs a mentoring program in Brussels for prospective directors and chief executives, said, "If you have 12 gray-haired men average age 65 on a board, they tend to think about business prospects and strategy from the same perspective. But if you put a 45-year-old from a hot company and a woman and an international representative on the board, the quality of the debate will deepen." But the shutting out of women from the top spots has nothing to do with their contribution to the company, and everything to do with the old boy system and ingrained sexism.

Finally, there's a link to a strangely noncommittal article (Post-Feminism and other fairy tales) about the character assassination of Hillary Clinton, the New York governor's penchant for prostitutes, and the divide between younger women and older women on feminist issues. I have always found the latter issue disturbing. In recent decades many women seem to be anti-feminist until their 30s. (I have a male friend who uses the perspective of younger non-feminist women to discredit all feminist issues.) But when I was 15, in the early 70s, I was a feminist; I understood the importance of issues such as equality of opportunity in work and school; violence against women; the objectification of women; exploitation through prostitution and pornography; and the need for women to be able to control their personal reproduction. We have made big inroads on the first of those issues, but many of the rest are still appallingly bad - in many cases getting worse. Why are younger women turning feminism into a preoccupation of the old?


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