WLI column left readers wondering what image, vision women should have

To the Editor:

While I appreciated Allison Pickens and Tamara Micner’s column (“Initiative helps women on path to leadership,” 2/26), I have deep concerns about what they, and all of us, believe it means to be a woman. While they reject the notion, as do I, that women must be passive, quiet and live in the diminutive, I am left wondering from the column what they believe women are.

Sure, women can and should be assertive and follow their dreams, but must they be less feminine to do so? And what does being feminine entail? Is gender simply a societal construct that we impose on one another from birth?

Our society has failed to preserve the notion of a strong woman; we have rejected the belief that mothers and their daughters can be tough and powerful. In the 20th century we even went so far as to reject the notions that domesticity has a worth beyond simple labor-hours, and that motherhood ought to be specially valued. What then is left for women?

The modern construction of a powerful female is the mini-skirted power broker, the manipulative woman who can wrap men around her little finger, the high-powered executive with three divorces behind her. The modern construction of the strong woman takes the ideals of her male counterparts as her own, accepting her sex not as a part of who she is but as a tool in her arsenal. This construction doesn’t reflect strength of character, it reflects a rejection of self.

I would challenge WLI and the other feminist organizations on campus to seek not only the empowerment of their members, but also answers to these important questions. I’d hate to see the battle for equality won in the workplace while we lose the war of preserving a feminine ideal.

Martha Grant ’09

Feb. 26

The writer is in Saybrook College.

To the Editor:

In their column yesterday, Pickens and Micner argue eloquently for the continued social disapproval of women who in their view have nothing but their lack of initiative to blame for the unequal distribution of female vs. male leaders. Although it is undoubtedly true that people who do not take initiative in explicitly becoming leaders will likely not attain such positions, it does not follow that these women and men do not “actively choose to live the life” they imagine, as Pickens and Micner argue.

Here we reach the crux of the issue — whereas Pickens and Micner might have always shared the “American Dream” of sitting in on executive meetings or commanding an audience, it is rather childish to take this desire as a self-evident value that everyone should have. The real question is whether this form of leadership is not servitude in self-assertive guise. Or are we to think that Condoleezza Rice leads the black community instead of serving the interests she has had to placate to be where she is?

The false leadership that Pickens and Micner preach at other women, and to which they assume men need no conversion, can best be summed up in a little tale about the man who, upon seeing a boisterous throng rush down the street, says to a passerby: “Quick! Tell me where they are going — I must know, that I might lead them!” So we should consider that this obsession with the form of leadership emptied of content — that is, leadership for its own sake as virtue without so much as a passing consideration of whether one has any wisdom to offer others — produces a rat-race society. If your only sense of value is outrunning the crowd, you are not leading anyone. Instead, it might only be loyalty to someone else’s values for the sake of winning the game that holds you back from finding a better path. This ethic leads to a society not of excellence, but of excellent mediocrity — where the supreme ideal is compliance to a previously set standard and over which we have no influence.

Then again, maybe a family is not a group of loved ones but only a training ground for our Stewie-like instincts (Stewie from “Family Guy,” that is), where we learn to make our ends our only true friends. Maybe art and music are but different battlefields where we might amass sufficient prestige in the eyes of others to walk first among the herd. Maybe politics is but a game of influence, where the only thing that matters is who enforces the law, not the law itself — the ideas that captivate, are sometimes blind and sometimes liberate people. But until I am convinced of this obliteration of life to the wreckage of master-servant relations that would justify the position Pickens and Micner advocate, I would hope that young women as much as young men still have the independence of thought to distrust social dreams with their injunctions — even those printed in newspapers every day.

Jordan Trevino ’08

Feb. 26

The writer is in Trumbull College.