In 2013, It's Time for Women to Take Control of Our Future


If 2012 was the year of the "war on women," 2013 should be the year of the woman. After 200 years of Western feminism, now is the time for women to stop advocating, and start doing. 21st century feminism must welcome and nurture female leaders in all walks of life, across communities, nations, professional fields, and yes, even politics. These female leaders need to, in the words of Nike, "Just do it." We need to do it our way, using our own ways of thinking and language. Without these contributions on the part of women, the future looks bleak.

Leadership isn't what we've seen displayed over the past year in American politics. It isn't speeches, it isn't talking points, and it isn't demonstrations for this "right" or that "benefit." Much of the public discussion of female leadership takes place through goggles that mirror those of the ill-fated Titanic, whose lookout saw only the tip of the iceberg on April 14, 1912. 

We see only the obvious examples of female leadership: political leaders and CEOs. Hillary Clinton, widely admired, but currently hospitalized with complications after a fall. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the first female to hold this position in two centuries of U.S. history, curiously absent from the past year of political debate. And now is the time that "lists" are made. The Fortune Top 50 Women in Business list is led by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, whose education and background in computer science and engineering places her in an elite group of one: a female engineer who leads a Fortune 500 company (#19 in 2012). But if I were asked which of these three women could best obtain results and make real change in a major enterprise, whether government, business, or non-profit, I would instantly answer Ginni Rometty. 

Lesson #1 of 21st century feminism is that politics is not leadership. No matter how much attention politicians are paid, they are public servants. A review of the current state of Washington's "fiscal cliff" negotiations shows article after article with not one female, not even Pelosi, interviewed or even mentioned. This is probably a smart decision on the part of the small group of female Senate and House leaders, because there's nothing good about the steaming mess that is Washington's "fiscal cliff." 

Lesson #2 of 21st century feminism is that women must establish their own language and patterns of thought, and begin to join the conversation using this language.

Case in point: Wired magazine's major feature about the future of robots and jobs. Pictures do speak louder than several thousand words, and here is what Wired really has to say about the future of robots, artificial intelligence, and human jobs/lifestyles. The pictures send the message that robots will replace the "world's oldest profession," a knee-jerk imaginary future featured in just about every 20th century sci fi dystopia, from Blade Runner onward. This would be hilarious if it were not intended as a serious article.


Wired's predictions may or may not come true. (Chances are, they won't.) But regardless, they are based in the same sort of fear-oriented, traditionalist, primarily male thinking that takes place every time any new technology threatens the status quo. 

It should be evident from the above chart that there are a few problems with the four human and robot job categories proposed in Wired. These categories aren't paired syllogisms; they are propaganda and fear-prediction. In square B, if the jobs are currently being done by machines, what separates these "machines" from robots? Answer: sophistication and improved performance. Robots are already doing these jobs. Square D doesn't even belong on the chart. It's a suggestion. And no, the article doesn't give any solid examples, an easy task since it covers jobs "we can't even imagine yet."

Wired's Kevin Kelly notes, "The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer." In other words, if you are a guy, be afraid, because some robot is coming for YOUR job. Jobs typically filled by females, such as nurses, teachers, wait staff, public relations, romance and fantasy novel writers, and of course, mother and child care provider, are not mentioned. 

Kelly's Wired article is a tech-thought equivalent of a bad fast food hamburger. Some guy invented the bun and topping in a lab and the process that delivers it cheaply was invented by some other guy creating an assembly-line concept. Further, his laserlike focus on the robot Baxter, a "workbot" invented by Rethink Robotics in Boston, caused him to overlook Toyota's existing medical/nursing robots, of which there is an entire fleet.

Riba the robot nurse is designed to lift and transfer patients in a safe, comfortable way. Riba isn't even designed by Toyota. "She" comes from Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and Tokai Rubber Industries, Ltd. No one will probably ever lose their job because of Riba.

I can't define why women need to enter the conversation as leaders and fully-competent commenters any better than pointing people at this bad Wired article written by a man, with photos taken by a man, and with male editorial direction. The article not only focuses on the partially-informed attitudes of its author, which date back to the Luddite textile workers of 19th century England, it ignores one of the world's great robotic centers, Japan. In one article, gender and cultural bias combined with bad information masquerade as something hundreds of thousands will accept as "fact" regarding the future. The only additional spoiled icing on this cake would be if Kelly, the author, received a free Roomba in exchange for exclusive coverage of the Baxter robot.

The issues the Wired article raises are important. Certainly, life will change. Artificial intelligence is already here, and robots will become more sophisticated and will begin to think independently. The Wired/Kelly answer would be that the robot rules invented by sci fi writer Isaac Asimov are all we need to know, that and, besides, robots are going to take people's jobs away. Robot sex could be hot, too.

The question for women moving forward needs to be "What do I think?" How would we build, develop, use, and work with robots? Robot nurse Riba seems like one good start. She is a friendly-appearing, strong and helpful "bear" that will eliminate injuries and help patients and nurses alike. 

Women have a new tool in this conversation as well — the internet. We no longer have to depend on editorial gatekeepers. We do not have to sleep with powerful men, as Paula Broadwell did with Gen. David Petraeus, to get a book published or to get our voices heard.

We have new models of female leadership as well.

Hillary Clinton? Sandra Fluke? No.

Wangaari Maathai. The Nobel committee has embarrassed themselves in a number of occasions in recent years, but their international race and gender tokenism managed to locate a genuine leader when Wangaari Maathai was selected for the Nobel Peace prize in 2004. Because of America's monolithic cultural and gender bias, as well as our heavy international news blackout, few Americans have heard of Maathai. Millions know Bono or Bob Geldof's names and have seen them on "missions to Africa," while mere hundreds of thousands know about Maathai's Green Belt Movement.

This is unimportant, because Wangaari Maathai was probably the most important and influential leader in Africa in the past 50 years. Her work has already produced a vast amount of positive change that can be most easily seen and quantified in the 51 million trees Kenyan and other African women have planted since she founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. 

The Green Belt Movement began because hundreds of thousands of women in Kenya were walking miles for firewood and water. The country was deforested, and drought, misery and poverty were the conditions for these women and their families. The solution was simple: plant trees. The seeds of those trees has given rise to better lives for millions today and has literally healed this part of the planet.

Wangaari Maathai, not any sci-fi hero or "famous environmentalist," was the world's first terraformer on a vast scale. 

How did she become such? She started by being the first, in many things. Educated in the United States in biology, she became the first woman in east and central Africa to receive a doctoral degree. She was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace prize.  

Her values, which remain the values of the Green Belt Movement today, are simple.

1. Love for environment conservation

2. Self and community empowerment

3. Volunteerism

4. Accountability, transparency and honesty

These will work. Everywhere. Wangaari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement are among the greatest stories of heroism of the second half of the 20th century. They have saved more lives and more importantly, improved life and provided opportunity and self-determination for more people than those whose lives were taken in conflicts more familiar to most Americans: Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wangaari's path is clear. Her biography is understandable. Her leadership, unquestionable. She owes her success to education, service, a clear vision, personal responsibility, and self-determination, with clear results.

Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech should be required reading by all college freshmen around the world. In just one part, she says, communities should "come to understand that while it is necessary to hold their governments accountable, it is equally important that in their own relationships with each other, they exemplify the leadership values they wish to see in their own leaders, namely justice, integrity and trust."

This is what we, women, must do in 2013. It is time for us to hold ourselves accountable and take leadership by doing, not "advocating" or complaining. We must undertake our daily leadership with integrity and fairness, earning the trust of others. We can do it one family at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one town at a time. As to "justice," every time we overlook wrongdoing, we do an injustice to those who do right.

We will make the change we want to see the way Wangaari Maathai did. One woman, one seed, one tree, one town. In my case, one word, at a time.