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Book: 'What Women Really Want'

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Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway
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Thursday, October 27, 2005; 2:00 PM

Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway , authors of "What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live," were online Thursday, Oct. 27, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss their book and women's attitudes toward national issues.

In "What Women Want," the authors assert that "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 Z and Y-confront the singular challenge of recasting the nation in their image, they are shaking the culture to its core." What issues are most critical to these women? In what ways do their views differ or converge? How will they impact the coming elections?

The transcript follows.

Celinda Lake is president of Lake Snell Perry Mermin/Decision Research, a research-based strategy firm in Washington, DC, working with a wide range of clients that require high-quality research. She is one of the Democratic Party's leading political strategists, and has worked with a number of progressive organizations, including EMILY's List, The White House Project, Planned Parenthood, The Unmarried Women's Project, Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, Human Rights Campaign, and SEIU. Lake is one of the nation's foremost experts on electing women candidates and on framing issues to women voters. Lake has also been partner and vice president at Greenberg-Lake and has served as political director of the Women's Campaign Fund.

Kellyanne Conway is President and CEO of THE POLLING COMPANY, INC./WomenTrend. She has provided primary research and advice for clients in 46 of the 50 states and has directed hundreds of demographic and attitudinal survey projects for political races, trade associations, and Fortune 100 companies. Kellyanne is an attorney, a nationally regarded expert on women consumers, and a regular commentator on national network and cable television. Kellyanne has worked for a diverse portfolio of corporate, political and non-profit entities, including Major League Baseball, ABC News, Lifetime Television, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Cendant, Grocery Manufacturers of America, Mass Connections, Heritage Foundation, Republican National Committee, National Rifle Association, and Family Research Council.

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Fairfax, Va.: For Celinda (from a former colleague at Peter D. Hart Research--1984!)

Hello and congratulations on the book.

Any differences in what single mothers want versus married moms?

Also, did you find major regional differences among women?

Celinda Lake: Wonderful to hear from you-thank you. First of all one of the things we found was that there were not many regional differences and part of that is that women are so mobile now and almost half the women in North Carolina and Montana were born outside of the state. People are so mobile now that there were not big differences. The premise of the book was the common views of women rather than the differences. In terms of single moms and married moms one surprising similarity was that both of them said that they're children were their most important relationship in their lives. The single moms were often struggling more economically, which was probably the biggest difference between them. But really what we were seeing were a lot of commonalities.

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Boston, Mass.: The distance between women of color and white women seems to me to make hay on part of the book's suggestion on racial progress. Issues of poverty, power and control I believe sharply divide us. Where are the signs of inclusion? I cannot see why such a rosey outlook can even be suggested when in my life and that of many of my peers there is no evidence to back up such claims. What have white women been doing to get such a coalition going?

Frankly, I really would like to know if this is real or if it is simply very wishful thinking on the part of the authors.

Kellyanne Conway: Women tend to agree on roughly 80% on the nation's major issues and where we should be headed. It is the 20% that tends to be the father of major coverage, overheated rhetoric, etc. and those matters have been constantly covered in the source of numerous books, articles, speeches to the detriment if not exclusion of the matters that bind women day to day, whereas immutable characteristics like race and ethnicity, gender and age will naturally and necessarily count for distinctions among women. Women's mutable characteristics like marital status, children at home, work outside of the home, rent or own, whether or not they have pets tends to bind them in a way that accounts for the incredible economic power they are wielding as consumers and we believe they could wield as voters.

Celinda Lake: I think you are correct about the institutional structures. What was stark in the data was that white women, Latinas and African-American women agreed on most things and it is sad to think that that agreement and consensus is not established in more of our institutions.

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Arlington, Va.: Per the intro to this chat...Who or what is Generation Z? That's a new one to me.

Kellyanne Conway: Generation Z is the term often used to refer to American's born in the 1990s, who are now teens and tweens, some of those are accounted for in Generation Y. The most fascinating trend about Generation Z is that even though they are not yet of college age or workplace age, they wield incredible consumer power because they tend to influence the bulk of decisions of the adults in their lives. Second, Generation Z tends to have multiple revenue streams; their own parents, half-parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and parents colleagues at work who don't have children but like to spoil them. For many of them technology is a native tongue so they are helping to lead the charge toward improvement and innovation in modern technology.

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Detroit, Mich.: Hi ladies, thanks for your time today. I recently read Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture," and I want to know if you see any confusion between power and sexual power among women these days, especially in the younger generation. What do you define as real power for women?

Celinda Lake: I think that's a very thoughtful question, and actually the question underlies the whole premise of the book because one of the things that we are arguing is that women have much more power than they realize and that our political structures are acknowledging. Another thing we find is that what we call the glass ceiling is smudged. Women are getting tired of trying to break through and are actually creating parallel structures not just exiting for the home, but also to start their own businesses and change careers, go back to school, etc. We also find that women have a great deal of respect for each other's choices and there is not the war between the factions that often the feminists and anti-feminists dialogues suggest, but that women are making much more flexible choices, combining things and respecting each others' choices.

Kellyanne Conway: In a sense "power" is exercised by women through the day to day choices that they make. Many more women today are in educational institutions, workplaces, or the home based more on individual choices than institutional circumstances. Yet, women likely remain unaware of just how powerful they are. This is a revolution without noise, without protest, and without fanfare. Rather, the increasing opportunities that women access in education and work are perhaps the best evidence of a sustained power among women than any set of statistics.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Conversely, what do men want, and why are the Republican Party and conservative political organizations appealing more to men than to women? And why do both parties seem to have a problem addressing the problems of both men and women on these gender gap issues?

Celinda Lake: Your question is a good one, but actually I think that both parties are increasingly targeting women. The Republicans have been very aggressive about targeting women voters and won the last election because of it. They particularly targeted segments of women voters around the security issue. The biggest difference between men and women's attitudes is around the role of government and you do find women more supportive of the role of government than men and more likely to believe that someone in their family may need a safety net program.

Kellyanne Conway: On one level, men and women often seek out and demand similar things, whether it be from consumer America or political America, yet often at a different pace and with a different order of priorities. In our data, we asked both men and women "if given the choice, would you prefer more sex or more sleep?" Women overwhelmingly asked for more sleep, whereas men were thinking more sex. So one difference between men and women is what they prefer between the sheets.

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Cocoa Beach, Fla.: I wonder if you could speak to reproductive rights? How are women erasing political and religious lines/barriers to reproductive choices? With birth control under fire and abortion meeting increased restriction, it appears ideology is ruling over science - and certainly over free-will. How are women erasing barriers to reproductive self-control?

Celinda Lake: I would say that there are some polarizing issues out there, abortion and gay marriage being two of them and that's why we don't discuss them in the book. However women are united in wanting to reduce the number of abortions and prevent the need for abortions.

Kellyanne Conway: The premise of the question deserves an initial amount of considered reflection, since plenty of folks on the right wonder how or even why abortion rights were strengthened over the twelve years of the Reagan and Bush administrations, and certainly on the watch of what many continue to label, perhaps quite inaccurately, a "conservative" Supreme Court. But the role of science and medicine as raised by the questioner is perhaps the most significant consideration to the future of this debate. The debate was once governed almost exclusively by religion and morality and it is now being dominated by science and medicine. That also means, particularly among young Americans, that sonograms have become a commonly viewed staple of American culture. In some ways some would have to concede "the fetus beat us."

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Washington, D.C.: Lately it seems as if women have advanced at the expense of our men. For example, the media often portrays the father character on television shows as being a bumbling idiot, while the women are always smarter and more attractive. Examples of this are Everybody Loves Raymond, According to Jim, and 8 Simple Rules, among many many others. While I realize that women were long portrayed as the "dutiful, moral, housewife and mother" and that portraying them as smart and powerful is positive, I don't believe it should happen at the expense of our men. There is a prevalent man-bashing culture that exists and also a prevalent backlash against stay-at-home moms by working women. Can't we all just support one another? Can't we continue to make strides and get ahead without knocking others down? If this is actually happening, I certainly don't see it.

Kellyanne Conway: The book is meant to focus on women and not at the expense of men. I agree with you that much of pop culture seems to have dumbed down the portrayal of men, particularly in sitcoms and advertising. Part of that is because women are making 80% of the household decisions so some people on Madison Avenue believe that the most effective way to demonstrate the power and heroism of a women is to make men seem more inferior. The upshot of the book is that women are powerful because women are powerful; that they're making their own choices neither because of men nor in spite of them but because these choices respond to their day to day demands. We found that much of the stay at home versus working mom debate is overhyped if not fictionalized and rather that women are increasingly supportive of other women's choices with respect to marital status and childrearing.

Celinda Lake: I would just reinforce what Kellyanne said and speak to the end of your comments. What we found were two things: one that women had tremendous respect for each other's choices rather than being at war over them and that many women wanted to expand the choices available to other women as well as themselves. We found that a very significant proportion of stay at home moms actually worked some hours outside of the home. We found that almost all stay at home moms expected to ultimately end up in the workforce and we found that two-thirds of working women would like to reduce their hours.

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Washington, D.C.: I've appreciate the way you have your "finger on the pulse" of our culture descriptively.

You mention the women's movements (plural). How would you characterize the history of feminism and other women's movements in the 20th/21st centuries? Do you agree on the history or differ, given your political differences?

Celinda Lake: We have never discussed that, so I don't know. Both of us are pollsters so our focus has tended to be concentrating on the current data that we have and we have in the book three different surveys that we did for the book and the current mood more than the historical analysis, so we have not really talked about it.

Kellyanne Conway: The modern women's movement has fewer labels and less fanfare. The culture seems to be decidedly post-feminist in that most women, especially younger women, tend to eschew becoming "joiners" or affixing a title to what they know are their complex selves. Women are also not single-issue thinkers or single-issue voters, so it would be difficult for them to restrict themselves into any one particular movement.

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Chicago, Ill.: I wonder whether women believe that affordable child care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers is an issue that the government should help them with?

Good care for the youngest of our children is very expensive, and rarely of high quality and affordable. Women often leave the workforce after the second child because of that. Women leaving the workforce has serious financial ramifications on their futures and their children's.

Why is this an issue for the government to help with in many European countries, but not here?

Celinda Lake: People certainly do support help for childcare and preschool. The problem is increasing the salience of the issue, particularly in tight budget times. We found in research we did separately that people are more supportive of preschool than childcare. People also tend to think that childcare is a limited problem that gets better each year and that there should be help but that it is essentially a private problem. People think that preschool is an area for broad public commitment but they still think it should be voluntary.

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Laurel, Md.: A number of message board Web sites agree with your contention that America has become woman-centric, but take the negative view of it. They claim that, basically, the less men have to do with women the better since the entire legal system in sexual harassment cases, domestic violence and divorce are geared to believing every female accusation and assuming men are perpetrators.

Are men dropping out of networked society because it treats them as irrelevant?

Kellyanne Conway: The good news is that fewer women are regarding women generally as victims rather than as survivors and prosperors. To the extent that is true, it is being accomplished in a world where men account for at least half the population and a much higher percentage of people in positions of power. For many of the women who are remaining unmarried longer, marriage to a man is still viewed as a noble pursuit and perhaps ultimate goal. They are waiting to get married not because they do not take marriage and men seriously but precisely because they do. They want to do it once, and they want to do it once right.

Celinda Lake: I would say that the attitude that you are summarizing is actually very rare in American and diminishing. We have men in our surveys and what we found was the interesting trend of the need for more flexibility in the workplace, support for children, the difficulty of balancing work and family, and the desirability of having a woman boss.

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Washington, D.C.: It seems dangerous to me to think it's possible to generalize what women want. The poster from Cocoa Beach, Fla., is one example -- their question is asked in a way that makes it appear that all women are pro-choice, when in fact, I know way more pro-life women (myself included) than pro-life men. I'm a party of one -- a 29-year-old grad-school-educated woman who is a church-attending, pro-life, anti-death penalty, vegetarian environmentalist, gay-rights supporter, Iraq war supporter -- so I don't quite understand how anyone could know what I want, other than your generic world peace and end to hunger.

Kellyanne Conway: You are precisely why the book is so important! "What Women Really Want" is to not be stereotyped based on their gender, their age and their stations in life but rather to be appreciated and supported for a number of what may seem like internal inconsistency to some but for what is really walking diversity of self. I represent the one half of the authors that is pro-life. We would commend the attention of the questioner to the eight archetypes towards the beginning of the book and invite her to find the two, three or four with which you partially identify.

Celinda Lake: One of the premises of the book is that women as many different views as you do and other women who disagree on all of those views find that they agree on many things about what they want in their lives, how they're expressing that in cultural, commercial and political decisions, what they want in a workplace, and the respect that they have for the differences among women.

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Kellyanne Conway: There are several trends from the book that we would like to highlight for the benefit of the readership. The first is generational compression. This means that three 45 year old women may share little else beyond their age and gender. One may be a first-time grandmother, one may be a first-time mother, and one may be an unmarried, childless woman who is focused on her career, yet all of them have come to their current base of power through individual choices. Women are no longer necessarily living linear lives but instead of sequencing life's major events through a self-designed mosaic. Second, the quest for perfection that has plagued women for decades is beginning to soften into a much more reasonable pursuit of improvement and betterment.

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Celinda Lake: Two other important trends: one is the increasing entrepreneurship of America. 46% of women want to start their own business and almost two-thirds of African-America, Generation Y and single women want to start their own businesses. A second trend is that only 25% of American families fit the traditional model and women are increasingly making decisions about children, about buying a house, or buying a mutual fund before they get married. Thanks for joining us today.

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