- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Los Angeles lawyer Susan Estrich, 47, recently published her fifth book, "Sex & Power," about men and women in public life. A former Harvard Law School professor, she was the first woman to head up a presidential campaign (Michael Dukakis, 1988).
She presently teaches law and political science at the University of Southern California, works as an analyst for Fox News and is the mother of two children, ages 7 and 10. Here are excerpts from her recent interview with Culture Page editor Julia Duin.

Q: Would you say women have finally broken through the glass ceiling?
A: The bottom is full of women, but unless the rules of the game change, they'll never move up. When you get to the midlevel, it thins out. The women who've become mothers have dropped out or gone part time, never to be seen again. Even the women who haven't become mothers start hitting lots of obstacles along the way and find opportunities to be limited. And then you get to the top, and it's all male. Unfortunately the reality is that if there is a woman at or near the top, the chances of her helping other women get there are 50-50.
Q: Why 50-50?
A: I call it "only woman in the room" syndrome. They think their position is enhanced by being the only woman there. But they're completely wrong, because the way you enhance power and build power is to build a team. Too many women my age don't realize they have a special responsibility to help other women because if they don't, who will?
A lot of them feel there's only one chair in the room for a woman, and if they give up that chair, maybe some other woman will take it, rather than realize they have the power to pull more chairs to the table. And what's sad about it is those women have power to do something if they'd only use it.
If the three senior women in any company said we need to do X, Y, Z and Q to increase our retention of women or open an on-site child care facility or create some part-time or flextime job options, the company couldn't afford to have its three top women leave. They would have to listen because if they left, ABC would do a story on it… . The reality is, those women do have power. But because they feel powerless, or beaten down or insecure, they don't use it. So what they become [is] less powerful. They become expendable. So when they leave, no one says, 'Isn't that a tragedy?' They say, 'See ya.'
Q: Are older women getting hired for top positions?
A: I went back to my Wellesley reunion, and here were all these women 25 years out of college who thought they had done the right thing they had children, ran the community, involved themselves in civic activities. And then they go out looking for a job now that their kids are in high school and going away to school. And [interviewing them] are these 28-year-old men sitting on the other side of the desk, and no one says, 'What valuable experience you've had!' Isn't it great you know how to suffer fools gladly or deal with a crisis?' That's what women in their 40s are experiencing.
So they end up selling real estate. They can't get the kind of jobs they deserve or need because they've been out of the work force too long.
Even women who don't have kids or women who manage to hide their kids and not let them interfere hit all kinds of obstacles as well, including assumptions about how ambitious you are, how willing you are to go for the top, whether you're top-notch material, about the willingness of men to mentor you. Even the exceptional woman who put in the 100 hours and play by the boys' rules, even those women by and large don't make it to the top. They get paid less. They don't crack the top ranks.
Q: So what do women over 35 do?
A: Don't take it. Get together with three women who are sitting in the same position and say, 'We want more.' And we're willing to make a stink if we don't get it. One thing that's true of a lot of women is we hate confrontation. We want everyone to like us. We want to be nice. We want them to see us on our merits. As long as you put up with it, that's what you'll get. So why don't the women go in and demand this? Because most of us, once in order to have gotten this far, are told: "Good girls." We don't confront. We aren't those loud-mouthed trouble-making feminists. We think if they see us like that, we won't get anywhere. Well, wake up and smell the coffee. We're not getting that far, anyway.
When Time Warner announced the merger with AOL, they had 25 men at the top. Not one media outlet in the country mentioned that the biggest entertainment and communications merger in the country was about to be run by men heading up every department. General Electric did the same thing. Fifty men. The punchline there is: Who buys all those products? The refrigerators, the microwaves, the freezers, the dryers? Women.
Q: You say every woman over 40 is always labeled 'difficult.' Why?
A: Show me a successful woman over 40 who isn't called difficult. There's an MIT study that found that men are automatically given the last space; women have to ask for it. Men are automatically given the professional assignments; women have to ask for them. Men are assumed to be ambitious, needy and desirous of certain things and get them automatically… . Finally you pitch a fit and something happens; then you're called 'difficult.'
Most of us aren't good at asking. And we don't ask for enough. We don't like to ask. Very few of us stand up for each other. Very few of us have powerful mentors in a position to help us. So what are we? Difficult.
Q: Why do you admire Hillary Clinton so much?
A: She's sort of a Rorschach test on power because people don't like her because of the issues. What interests me about the reaction to Hillary is how personal it is. It's about her marriage and her ambition. And I've never heard those issues applied to any man by anybody… .
And they're muzzling Lynne Cheney [wife of Republican vice-presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney] because they're afraid that powerful and ambitious women wives will be a turn-off to voters, particularly women… . Lynne Cheney has lived a feminist life. She's out there. She's been in top jobs. She's traveled when need be. In many occasions, she's had a higher profile than her husband, and it's worked. And now she's muzzled.
Q: Did you ever challenge Bill Clinton about his sexual assaults on women?
A: I asked him about Juanita Broaddrick. He said he would never have [done it.] That was a hard thing for me, as here I was, a rape victim, and defending him on Juanita Broaddrick… . I was sure he hadn't done anything. I mean, it's not him. I think he's sexually undisciplined, but I don't think he's a rapist. Of course he said he would never force himself on a woman.
Q: Do you think he was telling the truth?
A: Oh yes. I was talking to him around the time of the Clarence Thomas trial, and he said to me he couldn't understand why these guys would harass women. That, quite frankly, if you were a powerful man in Washington or anywhere in politics and you wanted women, there were plenty of women to be had without having to hassle anybody. I've watched women throw themselves at him. This man doesn't need to harass anybody. The number of willing volunteers is more than it should be.
Q: Despite your pending divorce, do you think marriage is good for women?
A: I think it has its advantages. Having been married 14 years, I can tell you, it's lonely not being married. Even an unhappy marriage has its good moments and aspects of partnership. I think the problem is that for a lot of women, marriage becomes the occasion, the excuse and the mandate to trim their sails. A powerful man is considered a very attractive and desirable man. A powerful woman is considered … .
Before I was married, I was living in Boston, and I hooked up with this guy who owned a huge multi-million-dollar company. Extremely well-educated. Extremely successful. The Wall Street Journal had profiled him. We went out to dinner, and he turned to me after dinner and he said, 'You're the most intimidating woman I've met in my entire life.' And he didn't mean it as a compliment. And I was a 29-year-old Harvard professor.

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