By Cait Clarke, director of federal programs at Equal Justice Works.
Barely a month into his presidency, Barack Obama signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. "I want to be clear that issues like equal pay ... are not just women's issues," affirmed the President in remarks. "Our progress in these areas is an important measure of whether we are truly fulfilling the promise of our democracy for all our people."
Creation of the Council that March morning was reasonably big news, noted in The New York Times ("The White House celebrated women on Wednesday," wrote Rachel Swarns). A spate of congratulatory columns and blogs followed. "Women issues getting traction," proclaimed the headline atop op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof's piece two days later.
Then, after the last ripples of launch publicity stilled, the Council effectively disappeared from public view. Its next mention in The Times would be 17 months later, this past October, and then only as a brief item in the week's calendar note ("The White House Council on Women and Girls will play host to a women's entrepreneurship conference in Washington featuring Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama"). To my count, it hasn't shown up since.
I cite this story not to criticize the Council nor to minimize the praiseworthy work I'm sure it must be doing, but rather to underscore the notion that the mission of "empowering" women may constitute impeccable ideology but it elicits, at best, ephemeral popular support.
The "inconvenient" truth is that, to fully prosper as both a class and -perhaps more importantly - as individuals, women must get better at asserting themselves. Policy and statute are certainly critical to stop flagrant, documentable abuses. Context is important. But women themselves must, in a phrase, become considerably more comfortable about asking for what they want and be adept in getting it.
It was to that end - empowering individual women with skills that couldn't be marginalized - that I set out to write Dare to Ask! The Woman's Guidebook to Successful Negotiating. True, there are good negotiating texts available, but few (maybe none?) directly show women how to negotiate as women!