Girl power grows up

By Gia Digiminani
October 14, 2004

I recently attended the first Pennsylvania Governor’s Conference for Women held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. The conference was sponsored by Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.

“You should never depend on anyone else for your income,” stated Ann Richards, former Texas Governor and the conference’s luncheon keynote speaker. At this proclamation, hundreds of women promptly dropped their silverware or glasses of iced tea to applaud. Some even called out cheers between bites of chicken salad.

These annual conferences promoting women in business started in California in 1986, with Nevada following suit the following year. The trend didn’t pick up in other states until Texas threw its cowgirl hat into the ring in 2000. This year, both Pennsylvania and New Jersey brought the East Coast into the sorority, each state hosting its first conference this fall.

Women in leadership roles was a major theme of the Pennsylvania conference.

“What is leadership?” asked Dr. Laura Liswood, founder of the Council of Women World Leaders, in her keynote speech. “It’s the courage it takes to go from standing in the middle of the crowd to standing in front of the crowd.”

She noted that men and women in our society grow up with very different leadership models. “Males grow up with the leadership model of the knight going off to battle, and the prize is the fair maiden. The female leadership model is Cinderella, and she talked to mice!” For this reason, she says, women often don’t claim their authority to lead the way that men do.

These gender lessons start as early as the elementary school classroom. According to the book “Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls” by Myra and David Sadker, teachers tend to give more attention to male students. In fact, the Sadker’s research found that teachers tolerated male students calling out in class, while reprimanding female students for the same behaviors.

While listening to the hearty applause to Richards’ statement, I realized that women really do need to claim our authority, both in business and our personal lives.

Following suit with great women reformers of the past, like Alice Paul, Elizabeth Blackwell and Betty Friedan, we also have the power to change old paradigms for ourselves, and our daughters.

It gives me hope that today’s more assertive female cartoon characters like Kim Possible and The Powerpuff Girls have replaced childhood images of yesteryear, like Cinderella. Hopefully, these images are enduring enough to combat more derisive adolescent role models like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who inaccurately promote sexual freedom as the road to female empowerment.

Leaving the conference, I took my seat on the R5 Express to Malvern. Glancing at the front page of a free newspaper I picked up at the train station, I read the headline, “Alyssa Milano Talks About Sex,” and I think, “If this is news, ladies, we have a long way to go.”

Posted to Web by: Scott Fobes

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Gia Digiminani

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