Sandra Day O’Conner: A Woman Who Rose to the Top

Abigail Hauer ’20

On our Women and Leadership trip to Washington DC over spring break, we visited the United States Supreme Court.  After having a private tour of the Court, including a tour of the actual Courtroom, the women of our group stopped at the temporary exhibit about the first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Conner.

Sandra Day O’Conner, born to ranchers in El Paso, Texas in 1930, graduated high school at age 16. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Stanford University and her Juris Doctorate at Stanford Law School in only two years, graduating third in her class.  O’Conner served in several legislative and judicial roles before she was appointed to the Supreme Court.  She was the Assistant Attorney General of Arizona, a State Senator for Arizona, and the first female Majority Leader of anystate.  O’Conner served as Superior Court Judge and Judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals before President Ronald Reagan formally nominated her to the vacant Supreme Court seat in August 1981.

While serving on the Court for 25 years, O’Conner was seen as the true moderate or “swing” vote. O’Conner voted in many prominent cases, such as Bush v. Goreto end the recount in Florida that ultimately led to George W Bush becoming President, but one of O’Conner’s most momentous cases was Aurelia Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, ruling that school boards can be held responsible under Title IX for “student-on-student” harassment. The case, regarding sexual harassment against fifth grader LaShonda Davis, found that the Monroe County Board of Education was deliberately indifferent as it ignored several complaints by LaShonda Davis’ mother about serious and systematic harassment.  The majority ruling, written by O’Conner, strengthened Title IX and its legitimacy for those suffering from sexual harassment.  O’Conner was recognized for her time and leadership on the Court when President Barack Obama presented her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Sandra Day O’Conner’s journey to being appointed the first female Supreme Court Justice was that of a journey through a labyrinth.  She rose to every challenge and exceeded it, graduating high school and law school early and being ranked third in her law school class.  Not only did she break the glass ceiling when she entered the male dominated Courtroom and stood for what she believed in, she broke a glass ceiling earlier in her career when she was appointed the first female Majority Leader for anyState Senate.

I vividly remember the first time I learned about O’Conner.  I was a junior in high school taking AP US History, and one of my teacher’s last lectures was on female leaders we learned about throughout the course. Many prominent names were discussed: Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Alice Paul, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Sarah Palin to name a handful.  But the one who stuck out to me was Sandra Day O’Conner. Why?  Because she was the first female to rise to the highest position in one of the three branches of federal government.  Two of the three branches of American government have had female leaders, and it is time that the executive has one, too.

O’Conner continues to be an inspirational figure to me because of how she came to be such a successful female leader.  She “pulled herself up from her boot straps” as she worked for everything she accomplished—nothing was handed to her.  Shegraduated high school at 16.  Shegraduated law school in two years.  Shegraduated third in her law school class.  Shebecame the first female Majority Leader in any State Senate.  Shewas appointed the first female Supreme Court Justice.  Sheearned everything.

As a woman who hopes to be as successful as Sandra Day O’Conner, she continually inspires me to work hard and earn everything on my own merit.  She inspires me to enter the labyrinth of male-dominated fields and to break every glass ceiling that women face.  She inspires me to be a female leader no matter what I do in life.

“Now What?”

Amanda Carrier, ’22

The chapter “Now What?” by Joan C. Williams and Suzanne Lebsock discusses the grave issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, along with how to take steps towards a healthier workplace environment. The authors start off by referencing the Harvey Weinstein case and they explain that it sparked several more similar accusations. Williams and Lebsock then go on to point out that this issue of sexual harassment is not a battle between men and women, rather it is “a fight over whether a small subgroup of predatory men should be allowed to interfere with people’s ability to show up and do what they signed up for : work” (Lebsock and Williams 120). The authors explain how this shift in culture is extremely significant, and it means that social norms at work will never go back to the way they were before. They point out that the bottom line of the shift is that women are now being believed. This is linked to the #MeToo movement, where women on social media share their sexual harassment stories. The more women that reveal their stories, the more credible the stories of all of these women as a whole become.

            The authors then go on to talk about the shift that is happening in regards to punishment, from quiet settlements to firing. The fact that this is occurring is very positive because it means that workplaces are trying to make an example of their fired employees, and show that they will no longer tolerate harassment in their environment.

            In the next section, they explain the proper way for men to act towards women in the workplace. First of all, the only way to tell what someone wants is to ask that person, Williams and Lebsock say. It is never safe for a man to assume that a woman is interested. When socializing with colleagues outside of work for networking purposes, it is not acceptable to make inappropriate remarks, or do any other inappropriate behavior. When complimenting a coworker on her outfit, there should be no suggestive implications. Men should not be scared of all these rules. They should not start avoiding women in order to avoid creating a problem. Doing so is illegal because it excludes women, which is its own problem. It is also important for women to speak up in the moment.

            Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris also contributed to this article. In their section, they discuss the way a business should go about cultivating a safe, harassment free environment in their workplace. Their recommended main steps are : Communicate with employees, Draw up your survey, and Evaluate. The survey should be short, concise, unambiguous, and very clearly anonymous. When evaluating the statistical results, they should be used to figure out if and what further steps need to be taken to create a better work environment.

A Reflection on “Leadership in the Women’s Movement”

Annie Palmer, ’20

The feminist movement has been defined by three distinct waves of feminism, which cover a range of agendas and needs at verging intersections to influence change and progress ultimately demanding a fight for equality of the sexes in all aspects of life.

The first wave of feminism fought for the suffrage for women globally. This was a defining obstacle, which women faced from the 1880s all the way until winning the vote in 1920. Women needed a dynamic facet to give them legal equality in order to redefine a woman’s role in society. On the forefront the women’s suffrage movement grew from an international stage and challenged institutions of social constraints such as race and class oppression. The first wave in America initially grew out of the Abolitionist movement from the rise of strong leadership of mostly middle class white women and did not give equality to black women. Later the movement became separated as a whole when the leadership held different perspectives, focus and philosophies, in particular, whether to use moderate or militant tactics. Leading figures spoke volumes to define women’s rights and substantiate the first wave of feminism of the 20th century with the vote. 

The second wave of the women’s movement was characterized by women on the more conservative branch seeking political reform and women on the radical branch promoting an alternative women’s culture. All women of the movement challenged the institutions of gender inequality and the status of women in society. Reform organizations used spokespersons as leaders often in political reform, while radical leadership used collective tactics. The development of nonhierarchical leadership of moderate and radical groups took the second wave to the left side of the political spectrum. The women’s movement was cognizant of redefining leadership to the feminist conception of power to avoid the male model of domination. Power for women was non-hierarchical through empowering one another to share equal power through the force of shared leadership. However, the influence of media has pushed forward women in the public eye as leaders of the movement, which distorted leadership for the second wave and gave a stronger visual dynamic to white women over colored women in the movement. Yet, women with strong voices help to redefine feminism bringing women of different classes and races to work together to not only fight for women’s issues but human rights, environment concerns, sovereignty, etc.

The third wave of the feminist movement comes from a generation born into a world of benefits their mothers fought for. They can approach feminism from a more formal approach after being exposed to feminist leadership training. The third-wave movement’s success is also owed to the changing forms of distribution of communication shaping leadership roles by those who defied norms to create social change and to continue to protect the rights that were given to them into the future. The progress of the first and second wave influenced the third wave and the growth of active participants.

With the progressive growth of the feminist movement of the three different waves the natural question is what is next for the feminist movement? Are we growing towards a fourth wave of neoliberalism, or intersectional feminist?  It seems there is an array of different perspectives and leadership of the women’s movement. A leading woman of today, who I have identified with, who stands out to define my generation is Sophia Bush. An actress who has been a role model for many women. She has spoken out as an activist of equal rights for all humans. Her definition of feminism, “It’s so not complicated… I watch everybody fight over whether it’s appropriate to be a feminist or not. And I sit here thinking, well, I’m a woman. I would like to be judged on the quality of my work, I would like to be compensated fairly for my work. I would like to have just as much access to healthcare as any man. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I don’t know what the big fight is all about… Believing in my right to live as well and as well-protected in the world as a man, doesn’t mean I hate men. And it doesn’t mean I’m going to burn all my bras and throw away all my high heels. I don’t want to be judged for wearing [heels]. I don’t want to be judged for wearing motorcycle boots either. It just feels like there’s so much stuff that gets placed on women that if we truly had equal opportunity wouldn’t even be in the conversation.”

Her voice touches my inner self and I relate to the call for equality and opportunity.  It is what we see when we look back to all the waves of feminism. It is the same universal message, to be heard and the share in equality. It is important to remember that for women feminism is working towards equality for men and women. If we fight one another we lose site of the equal ground for all people. It doesn’t matter what the color of our skin is, or our economic class, where we went to school, it about living in a society where we are not defined by stereotypes, but and can work to create an environment where we can all feel and be equal. We need to work as leaders to create a place where everyone is confident and comfortable to express who we are.

Navigating the Labyrinth

Emily Dalgleish ’22

From a young age, I have received a lot of support from my parents, teachers, coaches, and peers in becoming a leader. I am privileged in that I have not faced any grand obstacle that has prevented me from success. Instead, it is the smaller moments of prejudice that lead me to self-doubt and confusion. The feeling of being lost in my leadership has been a consistent experience in my development as a leader. For that reason, I believe that in their essay Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership, Eagly’s and Carli’s description of the challenges of leadership as a woman as a labyrinth rather than a glass ceiling, is very fitting.  

Moments in the labyrinth can seem small, but they arise frequently. When a man takes credit for my work, I question whether I deserve recognition. When someone does not like me, I question whether I am too strict to be warm. When someone does not respect my authority, I question whether I am too weak to be taken seriously. When preparing for an event, I question whether my hair will look professional enough. When I publicly speak, I am hyper-aware of the pitch of my voice. When meeting new people, I downplay my strengths and accomplishments to avoid seeming egotistical. I can get stuck, and don’t know where to turn next. I struggle to find a balance between my femininity and my authority, two traits which should not be dichotomous but often feel like they are. I fear that my ambition and confidence scares people away. As a leader, I have learned that I must take responsibility for my actions, but sometimes that means when I experience prejudice, I place the blame on myself

Eagly and Carli provide many suggestions for managers on how to make their labyrinths less difficult for women to navigate, but they don’t provide many suggestions for those of us in the labyrinth. So, I would like to share some of the lessons I have learned while lost in the labyrinth:  

  1. Find a mentor: If you know someone who has walked the same path before and gained perspective, they can provide guidance to you and understand the same barriers and dead-ends you have encountered.  
  2. Ask for help: Sometimes when you are at your most lost, you don’t want others to know. During those moments are when it is most important to call for help. Admitting you know when you are lost can help you find your way out faster, and it lets other people who are also lost know that they aren’t alone. 
  3. Bring some shears: Instead of turning around when you get stuck, you can cut down the barrier for yourself and for the people who come after. Make people aware when they are treating you unfairly, and you will make the environment better for other women in the future. 
  4. Study the labyrinth: If you want to find your way through, it can help to know what you are walking into before you start. Know that you will encounter barriers and know what those barriers look like, so you can know how to get around them or take them down.  
  5. Enjoy your confusion: It can be enjoyable to wander. You don’t have to know where you are going, and you can learn on the way. 

My greatest growth as a leader has come from the moments when I am not confident in what do or how to do it, but I act anyways. Learning to navigate barriers and confusion makes us better leaders, which is precisely why more women need to be in positions of power.  

Sexuality and the “Demands of Family Life”

Brianna Bruccoleri ’21

Coming into this program focused on women and leadership, I knew I would share a perspective which differs from the majority of my peers mainly due to my sexuality: I identify as a gay woman. While reading, my sexuality became incredibly pertinent. For example, when reading about leadership styles of men and women, I felt myself identifying more so with the leadership traits associated with masculinity. However, the Demands of Family Life section truly and most apparently gave me a perspective which I have never had to consider.

Within my relationships, I tend to be the more driven and ambitious woman. I do not see myself being in a relationship where I am not the more dominant partner—it is the way in which I express myself in relationships. Although, because of this, I have never had to consider eventually taking time away from work to begin a family as I grow older because I have always expected it to be my partner who does this task. Furthermore, my mother is the primary worker within my household while my father predominately has dealt with childcare. In a way, I have become blind to gender and sexuality within the household because it has never pertained to my family or way of life. This section, though, helped me come to the realization that simply because I have not encountered a stigma towards women within the workplace concerning familial pursuits does not mean that it does not occur—it is rampant.     

Reading the first chapter of On Women and Leadership, in a sense, allowed me to check the privilege which I never knew I had: my sexuality.  My leadership style has never been questioned—it almost seems to be expected that I will be assertive and strong. I have never thought of leaving work to start a family, as my mother never had to and I never thought of it because of my place in romantic relationships. Reading this chapter allowed me to gain a perspective which I otherwise would not have been able to obtain otherwise, and it has made me more aware of not just being a woman in leadership positions, but being a gay woman in leadership positions. It does spark curiosity, though: will I not have to deal with the common hurdles a heterosexual woman must encounter, or, will I not be able to continue life so fortunately?