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Designing Women, Part One
Mothers of the Earth unite

by DK Holland

• Educator Diane Ravitch is best known for a Bush Administration program she’d prefer not to be associated with: No Child Left Behind. Originally one of the program’s chief endorsers, she has since become its chief critic, stating that standardized testing undermines teaching—that it will destroy American public education. She claims charter schools undercut public schools, making many kids into second-class citizens. Diane adds, “High-stakes testing, ‘utopian’ goals, ‘draconian’ penalties, school closings, privatization and charter schools don’t work.” She concludes, “The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers.” Her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education is considered a seminal text on public education in the United States. Now retired but hardly idle, Diane continues to speak out frequently and forcefully in support of the public schools in America, cheered on by public school advocates. She has, however, been criticized as prejudiced toward the public school system.1

• Business executive Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says we need more women leaders in business. In her recent book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl reports that only 14 percent of top corporate jobs are currently held by women—a statistic that’s remained flat for 10 years, even as far more women achieve higher educational degrees than men. Even in the nonprofit world, which employs many more women than men, only 20 percent of leaders are female.2 Is this because women seek balance more than men? Sheryl instituted family-friendly practices at Facebook, just as she had when in leadership at Google. She puts family first: she goes home at 5:30pm to have dinner with her family. Sheryl believes that women need to be “at the table” in business but, because they under-estimate their abilities and because they want to be liked, they hold themselves back. They don’t negotiate. Their body language betrays them. Women are uncomfortable with achievement, so they rationalize that, if they “got ahead,” it would be because they simply “got lucky.” Sheryl has created a community of like-minded business professionals of both genders. She urges women to be themselves, but be savvy. And she offers tools: free tutorials on negotiation and team dynamics are offered on Sheryl has received criticism for suggesting that the average woman can ease her struggle for equality and leadership in the workplace the way she did, since most women don’t have access to the resources, support or privileges that she and her cohorts enjoy.

A strong woman is apt to be perceived as either a prostitute or a saint: either all bad or all good. The mysterious Mary Magdalene, the disciple of Jesus, is often seen as both. But she was also seen as strong and loyal, staying with Jesus through the trials at the end of his life when almost all had fled in horror, and being the first to witness his resurrection. Mary Magdalene embraced what was good and fair above all else, essential qualities we need now from enlightened women leaders. Strong women are often demonized, but to distort, demonize or falsely compare individuals only fuels diffidence. And diffidence is the chain that holds women down.
Even though sex is no longer an issue in voting (with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920), women are still not treated as equal to men across our land. The Equal Rights Amendment (meant to eliminate inequalities based on sex in both state and federal laws) is a battle that has been lost innumerable times. Since it was first introduced in Congress in 1923, the ERA has been defeated over and over, primarily by highly conservative voters. The most recent rejection—in the early 1980s—was led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, herself an attorney, who argued that the ERA would reduce benefits for dependent wives if passed into law. Phyllis, mother of six and a widow, believes women should be subordinate: ladies should stand behind their husbands, in the bosom of their families, baking bread.

Today there are a record number of women serving, not just in the kitchen, but also in Cabinets, Congress and state legislatures, and more are running all the time. Issues of particular concern to women are getting more recognition as a result, including military sexual assault, the gender wage gap and reproductive justice.

Emily’s List (Early Money Is Like Yeast…it makes the dough rise) invests in the campaigns of forward-thinking Democratic women candidates to “build a lasting progressive majority dedicated to social justice, civil rights, diversity, economic reform, and compassion—and construct a society that values the contributions of all of its citizens.” Since its start in 1985, Emily’s List, which is a political action committee with 2 million members, has helped elect 101 Democratic women to the House of Representatives, 19 senators, 10 governors and over 500 women to state and local offices. These changes in the leadership of government help ensure a better future for our planet and all its inhabitants, but we still have a long way to go to achieve balance: men still occupy 80 to 95-plus percentage of the decision-making positions in religion, politics, business, military, culture, media and entertainment.3 This includes the communication arts, in which women are very often stuck in positions of low influence and authority. How can design and advertising be effective when the “voices” are not balanced? Let’s go for balance—50/50, shall we?

When observing a man giving an authoritative speech, put a wig on him. Do you perceive him differently as a “her;” do you sense a shift in trust? Studies have shown a positive correlation between likability and achievement in men, but a negative correlation for women. New York University’s Stern School of Business conducted a test in 2003 called the Heidi/Howard Study. A case study profiled a real woman named Heidi Roizen who was accomplished in business. Students were asked questions about her after reading the study, about her likability, whether they trusted her, how they assessed her personality. Another group of students were given the exact same paper except Heidi’s name was changed to Howard. The results showed that Howard was someone you could trust and work for, but Heidi was not. Howard was a nice guy. Heidi was not a nice woman. Holland
DK Holland writes about design and teaches in two MFA design programs in New York, one at SVA and one at Pratt. She is an advisor to Project M and Design Ignites Change. Holland has been the editor of Design Issues since she started it in 1990. She is the author/producer of many books on design as well as Branding for Nonprofits. She is the producer of CitizenME, which creates transmedia tools that engage students in understanding how to become proactive citizens. Holland lives and works in her tiny nineteenth-century restored Italianate house and garden in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.