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Left, right and women: Inside the other ‘party’

Women are a strong force reshaping America's future, say authors Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway in “What Women Really Want.” Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

In a new book, Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway present extensive research into today's woman — what they buy, what they believe, how they work, how they live, what they care about, what they fear and what they really want. Lake and Conway visited “Today” to discuss their book, “What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live.” Here's an excerpt.

Introduction: America in Her Image

At a recent focus group composed of working women and men, a male executive stated, “A successful day for me is when I don't have to talk to anyone.” As several men in the room nodded in agreement, the women stared at him incredulously. They just didn't get it.

If men feel more in control when they are left alone, women thrive on collaboration within a collection of interconnecting networks. “For me a successful day is when all my relationships are clicking,” countered a woman in the focus group.

It's not exactly news that men tend to isolate while women communicate; the news is the way this one simple reality has sparked a movement. Cubicle by cubicle, neighborhood by neighborhood, on playgrounds, in coffee bars, on commuter trains, at community and school functions, in shops and health clubs, at conferences and retreats, informal female networks are relaying information, offering support, solving problems, and making a difference.

A Revolution Without Fanfare Eileen, an internist in her forties who specializes in women's health, likes to tell the story of her first anatomy class in medical school. “Our anatomy texts referred to the male as the human prototype, the biological ideal. Female anatomy was only discussed when it digressed from the male standard. Smaller bones, a uterus, breasts that interfered with easy dissection, a weaker musculature. It was ludicrous — like saying children are merely miniature adults. But that was the attitude in the medical community. Some of those anatomy texts are still around, even though we know better today. Women aren't just smaller, weaker versions of men. They're unique.”

The medical model that Eileen describes is a fitting metaphor for what it has meant to be a woman in America. Although women have made tremendous advances toward equality and self-determination in the past century, the strides were usually measured by how successfully they adapted to the male standard. The canvas was already painted. The mold was already cast. Women were left to add the final touches, the accessories — a dab of color here, a high-heeled shoe there. Success in business meant showing she could be tough like a man. Success in marriage and motherhood meant satisfying the needs of her family. Few women in their right minds remained single by choice; status accrued with marriage and children.

Even in recent, more enlightened times, women have typically been defined not by what they are but by what they are not. A woman on her own is unmarried. She is childless. If she is at home raising children, she is nonworking. Many women have thus been diminished by the language of the day.

Politically, women's influence for most of the 85 years since they earned the vote has been relegated to “soft” issues — education, health, and family values. Candidates didn't talk to female audiences about the stock market, business, crime, or the military. They talked about schools or the environment. While these issues are still dear to them, women have broadened their scope of concern as their influence has grown.

The women's movements of the last century have accomplished a great deal in improving access and opportunity for women in business, education, and the military. Today, we are in a decidedly post-feminist age. More and more, women are not fighting for a place in the establishment. They are the establishment.

Without fanfare, almost stealthily, America has become women-centric, reaching its full expression in the first decade of the twenty-first century. As a not-so-silent majority of women — from seniors to boomers to Generations X and Y — confront the singular challenge of recasting the nation in their image, they are shaking the culture to its core. Some grew weary of pounding at the seemingly immovable fortress of the male norm. Some gave the male norm the heave-ho altogether.

As pollsters and analysts, we've noticed the shifting patterns in family and work practices, lifestyle choices, and voting trends for many years. But when we probed more deeply, we discovered a fundamental new reality that statistics alone couldn't measure. Women from all walks of life and political persuasions are saying, in effect, that they no longer define issues in accordance with male standards. Women have become the norm, and they want an America that better reflects their image.

Eight Archetypes What exactly does this female norm look like?

When we polled a representative sample of American women, we identified eight distinct archetypes, proving that women come from diverse experiences and points of view, even as they share many common goals. We didn't always find agreement on the means, but we often found agreement on the ends. These eight archetypes are not abstract; they are based on the real women we surveyed. Along a broad continuum of change, some women are forceful advocates, while others are waging quieter revolutions, and still others are on the sidelines waiting to be lifted up.

These are the faces of American women, portrayed in our polling.

Feminist Champion: A politically engaged liberal, this highly educated, upwardly mobile woman is an activist for women's and children's issues. She tends to be more secular than others and holds strongly pro-choice views. She represents a mix of ages (the largest percentage being between 40 and 49) and she may be married or single. Devoted to her career and community, she is strongly motivated by values of equality and opportunity. You might find her at a pro-choice rally, a benefit for third world women, or working on a political action committee.

Suburban Caretaker: She is the lynchpin of home and community, typically a white, suburban wife and mother in her thirties and forties. A comfortable family income allows her to stay home with the kids, if she chooses, or to work part-time. Spirituality, and often religion, are important to her, and she views herself as the caretaker of the emerging generation, making her deeply invested in the moral standards of her community and nation. She focuses on education and health care and now tends to be a conservative “values” voter. You might find her at a PTA meeting, organizing a church event, or cheering her son or daughter at the fieldhouse or dance recital.

Alpha-Striver: She didn't get the memo that women can't “have it all,” and she is determined to excel both professionally and personally. Her high income, investments, and advanced education give her a wide array of options. She is likely to be a “junior senior,” between the ages of fifty and sixty-four, either married or single, and often a mom. Relatively liberal and engaged politically, she views herself as an agent of change. You might find her at a corporate conference, a county board planning meeting, or taking her high schooler on college interviews.

Multicultural Maverick: Young, single, urban, and multiethnic (White, Latina, African American, Asian), she is an individualist rather than a joiner, attracted to entrepreneurial endeavors. Her childless status gives her greater freedom, although she is strongly connected to her parents and siblings and may live at home. Although she tends to be liberal in her political views, she is somewhat indifferent about voting, and she distrusts most politicians. You might find her at the health club, coffee bar, or bistro, hanging out with friends, at a family barbecue, or attending an Earth Day concert.

Religious Crusader: Deeply committed to faith and family, she is more likely to view issues through the prism of “right vs. wrong” than “right vs. left.” A politically active Christian conservative or church-going Catholic, this woman in her forties is financially upscale, married, and a mother. If she works outside the home it is in her own business or in a career that provides a great deal of flexibility. You are most likely to see her at a religious service, a pro-life rally, or home schooling her children.

Waitress Mom: Usually a blue collar or service worker, this middle class mom is most concerned about achieving balance in her life and greater educational and financial opportunities for her children. While the majority of this group is married, the remaining third is split between single, divorced, and widowed. She tends to be a conservative-leaning moderate, a reliable voter who may “swing” to support candidates who address her core concerns of health, security and the economy. She considers herself a person of faith, but she does not regularly attend religious services. You are most likely to see her working a forty-hour week, grocery shopping at night, and taking her kids to the mall on weekends.

Senior Survivor: This over-65 grandmother is security- and health-conscious and may be either financially struggling or financially set, depending on her retirement means and monthly prescription bills. Politically centrist, she votes in nearly every election, and tends to support incumbents and the status quo. She may be married, widowed, or single. If her health is good, you might find her taking care of her grandchildren, getting involved in community organizations, working or volunteering part-time, and traveling. If she is frail or in poor health, you are most likely to find her at home, living with her children or in an assisted-living apartment — relying on her daughter to take her shopping and to medical appointments.

Alienated Single: Economically marginal and politically disengaged, this woman tends to be young — under 45. Divorced or never married, she may or may not have children. She is the least religious and the least educated of any group. Lacking a meaningful affiliation with a religious organization or supportive community, she tends to fly under the radar. She feels that she has little control over her future and worries about how she will take care of herself as she ages and is faced with health issues. Although she identifies herself as politically independent, she is usually not registered to vote. You are likely to see her in a low-wage job, rental apartment, and riding the bus or subway instead of driving. She is the least likely to be an agent of change, but she may be the beneficiary of changes others produce.

Excerpted from “What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live” by Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway with Catherine Whitney. Copyright © 2005, Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway. All rights reserved. Published by . No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.