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During the 2008 presidential election, Marianne Schnall’s then 8 year old daughter asked her, “Why haven’t we ever had a woman president?” Unable to provide an answer, Schnall set out on a journey to find one. A widely published writer and interviewer, and Founder of Feminist.com, Schnall interviewed influential leaders and thinkers across all sectors for her book, What Will It Take to Make a Woman President: Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power (Seal Press, November 2013). These conversations explore what needs to change in order to finally elect a woman into the White House.
I interviewed Schnall to learn more about her approach to putting together the book, her thoughts on the progress women and men have made on the issue thus far, and what she’s learned from nearly 20 years working for gender equality. This is part 2 of our conversation. Read part 1 here.
What do you think the role of men is in this conversation? Quinn Norton wrote a great piece over at LadyBits about men’s silence on the women’s leadership issue, saying, “Men need feminism more than women do.” Where are the men?
Men have a big role to play, and more and more men are stepping up. In the book, whether it was Nicholas Kristof, Gavin Newsom, or Don McPherson, I heard men talk about many of the same things. There are a lot of problems in the world and there’s growing evidence that having women in leadership positions leads to more effective solutions. Nicholas Kristof said to me, “This is not something that is going to benefit the women of America, it’s something that’s going to benefit all of America,” talking about gender diversity in American politics and on corporate boards. This is about a reflective democracy. I think everyone can agree things are pretty dysfunctional right now. It can’t hurt to have as many perspectives as we can sitting at the table coming up with solutions and making important decisions.
The other reason leadership parity needs not to be framed just as a women’s issue, is there really hasn’t been a place for men in the women’s movement yet. If it’s framed as a women’s issue, men don’t know how they fit in. It’s important to make space for men to become advocates and get involved. I remember Don McPherson talking about this, how sometimes he’s asked to be on panels for a women’s cause (as he speaks out a lot around violence against women), and he wishes there were more opportunities just for men themselves to talk about gender equality.
Gloria Steinem reminds us we not only need women to be seen as experts and authoritative figures, we need to let men be caretakers and nurturers. One of the things that seems to hold women back is trying to juggle it all. We do need men to share in home responsibilities and taking care of the kids. Men often want to. But the way things are, they’re not encouraged to do so, or raised to do so. If we can show how gender equality impacts men and how they benefit, we’ll find men naturally will want to be part. That’s been my experience.
I think about this a lot. There’s so much divisiveness in the world right now. We have to find a way to bridge differences and have messy dialogues in which we don’t see eye to eye or can’t see someone else’s perspective. To try to find common ground, find more opportunities to come together and discuss grievances, and also unify around our common humanity. It takes having new types of conversations, understanding how we can support each other and what each of our communities need. We do all have so much in common.
I asked a lot of questions about coming together to work toward common purposes in the book. Look at Washington! We need to have a more unified government, not something so partisan, so we can work towards the common good of all citizens. We need to build better communication skills and find better ways to arrive at consensus. And lot of what I heard in the interviews (in the spirit of changing from the power over to the power to model) was the need to lift up underserved communities and put an end to the accumulation of power for its own sake.
Related and unrelated to what it takes to make a woman president, what are your thoughts on women and money?
This came up a lot, the need for campaign finance reform and changing what it takes to mount a political campaign. When I interviewed Nancy Pelosi she talked about the absolute necessity of creating environments “where the role of money is reduced and the level of civility is heightened.” It’s holding women back. The role of money in politics impacts everyone. We also need to be talking about pay equity and so many other issues women face around money. The congresswomen I interviewed spoke about how women need to get comfortable talking about money and asking for it, asking for a lot of money, which we haven’t been conditioned to do. You just have to do it, it’s just part of the game.
What has been the biggest joy or surprise of this project?
At first I thought I was going to do 20 interviews, but everybody I talked with kept giving me contact info for more people, so it exploded to nearly 60. People want to have this conversation. And then just the support since the book came out, the events we’ve been doing with contributors across the country. I want to use this book as a platform for groups that are working on these issues and emerging thought leaders who are working on these themes. The interest and energy and excitement around the book has been wonderful. It’s hit a nerve.
Any last thoughts for Take The Lead readers?
The book has always been about more than women’s leadership. It’s about everybody, men and women, finding their way to becoming change agents and leaders in their own lives. It’s about knowing we all have an important visions and voices and feeling empowered to manifest those in the world in whatever way we’re inclined to do. We all have a pathway to create change.
Read more posts by Lex Schroeder.