Zoe Cruz: Women and models of power Part 1

Last night I was reading in New York Magazine about how Zoe Cruz was fired from Morgan Stanley. The story begins with a description of how she went to a meeting with her boss, CEO John Mack, expecting to be named his successor, but instead ends up getting fired. The rest of the story describes how Zoe Cruz was basically, punished by her male colleagues who openly hated her, ignored by her subordinates, and betrayed by her mentor. It also describes how this was partly a result of Zoe Cruz playing too well the game by adopting the aggressive power style of the men around her and the men being bristled by that.

I read the article with distress for what it means to be a women in positions of significant leadership. The lingering animosity towards powerful women 20-30 years older than me affects women of my generation and below. Generational changes will address some of this, so I can partly wait it out. But for the next 10-15 years, when I hopefully have made a transition from emerging leader to just leader, what model of power do I adopt?

Male Power?

Having attended Bryn Mawr College, I've been exposed to women who have adopted a stereotypical male style of elite power. Zoe Cruz would fit into that category as well as many women in their 50s and 60s in elite positions of power like Hillary Clinton. I do not forget that Condeleezza Rice is called the "Ice Princess." In many ways, it makes sense that this would be their survival strategy, when they were so greatly outnumbered and the hostility toward their presence so open.

It is of course a double-edged sword to adopt "male power," because I hear male colleagues all the time criticizing female colleagues, students, and me for being stubborn (i.e. holding strong opinions), self-centered  (i.e. being independent), bossy (i.e. holding people accountable for what they say but fail to do), arrogant (i.e. believing in self more than the low estimation that they hold of your abilities, especially when you deliver on your promises), and cold (i.e. not crying when they do really mean things to you).

Yet, especially as an African-American woman, who comes from a deep matriarchal structure (and not because there were no men, its just the women are awesome human beings), I am willing to hold to my opinions, structure my relationships to optimize independence, hold people accountable for what they fail to do, believe in my own abilities without them needed to be reinforced by someone else's approval, and will not cry if you do really mean things to me (not in public). And in the past, I have been betrayed by colleagues (male and female) for being so. The great thing about being independent is that while your ego can be shattered by these events, they in no way affect your material well being, so you are easily able to regain equilibrium. And once you put your ego back together, you learn.

I've learned to hold my opinions yet seek to find shared opinions with others, remain independent but structure projects so that all can contribute what they do best, continue to hold people accountable and get rid of them if they are not (this is a must), believe in my own abilities but praise the abilities of others, and still not cry if people do really mean things to me. The truth is that I don't know any great models for what I've been doing with power, lately.

I mean I get bits a pieces from people. Praising people I've learned best from Ric Grefe. I think it comes from working with a mostly volunteer effort, so payment is only in affection and praise. Remaining independent but structuring for contribution I've learned from Robert Feldman. Holding my opinions but finding shared opinions I've learned from Ken Friedman. Not crying in public, except when you really need to, I've learned from Hillary Clinton.  And perhaps that is all that you can get is learning bits and pieces from people.

But also having attend Bryn Mawr, there is the Goddess model of power. Tomorrow, I shall explore that more.

15 lines of Fame in Chicago Red Eye

So for those who did not have enough on lap dancing and Flirty Girls Fitness, I got literally the last word on the subject in yesterday’s Chicago RED EYE in a story, Workouts Gone Wild written by Kyra Kyles. It is a balanced story in terms of presenting the views of women who enjoy the class, the owners of the gyms that offer strip and pole dancing classes, the men who feel they can benefit from women taking the class, and me, who talked about the wider social ramifications for young women and feminism. But then again, I might just like it because I got the last word. Tee hee.

Flirty Girl Fitness

As I walk my dog each morning on Randolph, I have passed by the soon to be opened Flirty Girl Fitness center. I thought, "Oh just another gym," until I saw a sign that read, "Are you fit enough to strip?" Basically, the Flirty Girl Fitness center will offer you for a monthly fee of $120 unlimited classes in stripping, pole dancing, lap dancing, and boxing with pink boxing gloves.

Having done my undergraduate thesis on phone sex, I've kept up on the sex work arguments and I think there is a certain empowerment that comes with having control over one's sexuality (if that is the case) and a viable choice of exploiting the higher profit margins of the sex industry. The rise of female producers, regulations about public health with the AIDS crisis, and safer working conditions has helped in the porn industry at least in the US. Street workers still are extremely vulnerable, but the shift to prosecuting the "John" instead of just the prostitute has at least in the legal sense made things more equitable. There is, of course, exploitation in the sex industry, but not more exploitation than in the mining industries, or the oil industries.

Yet, the idea of paying someone $120 per month to "lap dance your way to physical fitness" strikes me a somewhat problematic. Okay, for let's say, a 40+ white woman who has had her sexuality repressed by her suburban lifestyle, taking a weekly "Chair-strip tease" class can empower her by putting her back intouch with her sexuality. There are no men allowed in the class, so it is supposed to be a safe environment. But if you are a young woman, a woman of color, the oversexualization of your person is often the source of your disempowerment. Endulging in masculine fantasies of hyper-sexualization, is perhaps not the best route to reclaiming your sexuality. Looking at the gallery images of the Flirty Fitness site, the majority of the people are young women of various racial/ethnic groups.

I guess you could do it for yourself, but a trip to the Ole Sex Shop is probably a less expensive and more effective alternative therapy. So interesting enough on Randolph, there is a real strip tease club which I also pass by when walking the dog in the morning. It will be interesting to know what the women there will think of the new "gym" down the street. My bet is that they would want to tell the women to come there and earn the $120 as opposed to pay it out. One does not know which represents the true empowerment.


Connections, work, and decisions: men and family

There were two articles in the New York Times that caught my interest this morning: Jane Gross's article When the Beard is Too Painful and Lois Uchitelle and David Leonhard's 7/31 article on Men Not Working.  Jane Gross's article deals with 40 to 60 year old "gay" men who still want to maintain their marriages and families, while having a homosexual relationship. Men not working talks about middle-aged men who are unemployed or underemployed while seeking for work that pays the bills and is meaningful to them. What is interesting is the role of women and family life in each of these stories.

In the Men Not Working article, they talk about how up to 60% of the out-of-work men in the US are divorced, separated, widowed, or never  been married. It quotes sociologist Kathryn Edin:

“What happens to a lot of guys who become unmoored from family life, they become unmoored from everything,” Ms. Edin said. “They are just living without attachments and by the time they are 40 or 50 years old, the things that kept these men from falling away — family and community life — are gone.”

There is an implicit connection between men working and the stablizing force of women and family life. How many times I've seen or read about a man working to gather the wealth to marry his beloved and start a family. This is the story of Heathcliff and Cathy of Wuthering Heights, the entire institution of bride price, even going back to the Epic of Gilgamesh. To civilize Enkidu, Gilgamesh first entangles him with a women, Shammat. Are women and family life the main gateway to human connection for men?  Are women really forces of production instead of seduction, contrary to how they are portrayed? Although, Shammat achieves her productive means through seduction, which is interesting.

Jane Gross's article only complicates the situation. Again, it addresses the small percentage of heterosexually married gay men and their desire to maintain their social and emotional connections to their wives and children as well as the emotional connection to their homosexual partner/lover. She quotes a man struggling with his "Brokeback" marriage:

One support group member, Steve T., is a Long Island doctor, married to his high school sweetheart and the father of three school-age sons. He said he felt the sting of judgment when he tried a group for gay fathers. “They thought my desire to stay married was part of my denial,’’ said Dr. T., who would do almost anything to keep his family together and his suburban lifestyle intact, even after telling his wife that he is gay.

Its not working out for Dr. T, whose wife has asked him to move out even after trying to accept his duo-lifestyle, but it demonstrates the complexity of the various human connections needed to keep people whole. The article goes on to describe the loneliness and isolation that some of these men find as they struggle with the gay dating scene. Beyond claims of false consciousness of these men based on the assumption of gay denial, is there something else there in the desire to maintain those connections as a source of meaning as well?

I think we need more flexible models for types of human connections in the dyad romantic relationship. I keep thinking about the movie Normal with Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson, about a 50ish midwestern rural man who decides to have a sex change. After kicking him out of the house, inviting him back, and he preparing to have the surgery, they both end up staying together because they've loved each other for over 20 years. The nature of that love shifts and changes but you still love the person. Why does it have to be only one way or another?