What is up with the constant photo ops of the wives of the men running the financial universe? What about the two women in the G-20? Do we put their husbands in the midst of this group of women? No. It would look insane. And that is exactly the reason that all the other women in the group should feel insane. Because this is just a tea party. But it’s actually worse than a tea party. It’s a tea party from hell.

Competent, powerful women know that the best way to look like you have no power is to run around in circles that are by their nature limited to women. The G-20 Wives' Club photos are particularly insulting because these women are being associated not by their special interests, or particular education, or common background, but merely by who they are sleeping with. Seriously. When, other than when rounding up prostitutes for jail, has this approach to grouping women been acceptable to society?

In an interview in People magazine, Michelle fielded the question, “How do you like the job as First Lady?” She said that she likes it but “the pay is not great.”

Total understatement, right? I mean, she does not get paid to do any First Lady duties. But she has a law degree from Harvard. And she supported her whole family financially for a good part of their marriage. She has huge earning power. And she is putting that aside to run the circus social life of the wife of the US President. This is not a small job. This is a full-time job. So full-time that our only bachelor President had his niece do the job. And when Hilary was pissed off at Bill, Chelsea started taking First Lady duties because really, it’s a job that someone has to do.

I adore Michelle Obama, and I adore Carla Bruni — First Lady and First Model, and First Homewrecker, of France. But I don’t want to see them grouped together for something other than who they are. They are special and fun and innovative and strong. They do not deserve to be grouped almost randomly with other women based on who they married. I want to see Michelle and Carla hanging out together so I can have a vicarious girls-night-out in London.

While I write this post, Adam Toren has the unfortunate timing of sending me an email to tell me I have been named one of the top 100 women bloggers. I email him back immediately to ask him if he has a similar award for the top 100 men.

And here’s my point: women do not need to be called out just because they are women. It’s bullshit. Women are doing fine competing with men. Women are earning more than men in corporate America, women are keeping their jobs at a higher rate than men in the recession, and, Adam, when it comes to making money from blogging, the mommy bloggers knock the ball out of the park. So what’s up with segregating women? What is the point?

How should women respond? Say no when you can afford to. I will not be putting Adam’s badge on my blog. I don’t pitch to women-only investor groups. And I don’t read women-only business magazines.

But women need to know when to play along, too. Michelle is not going to boycott the G-20 girl’s club, and when an investor group tells me they are looking for women CEO's (yes, this happens often), not only do I deal with them, but I wear a skirt and heels to the presentation.

You should know when you can help yourself more by participating and when you will hurt yourself. But also, Adam’s going to get a lot of traffic from this post, so I want to add one more thing: Be nice and be gracious, because almost everyone who segregates women foolishly thinks they’re doing us a favor.

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  1. Lynn O'Connor
    Lynn O'Connor says:

    If there are “.women’s X lists” it is because there is sexism, overt sexism, around, in a given field. I recently found my attention drawn to the small number of women in the productivity/self-development blogging world. I’m an avid GTDer (Getting Things Done by David Allen), and DA was holding a big “GTD Summit” in SF where I live. I thought I might go, until I noticed the line up of speakers –something like 36 speakers wiht 2 women. It disturbed me, and I thought it had to represent some male supremacist attitudes of the organizers. I decided to avoid the event. I thought if I had gone,full participation would feel awkward. I started to do a count of number of female bloggers (in productivity world) compared to men, number of female twitterers compared to men. The numbers are appalling. The blogging at least the productivity/personal growth blogging world demonstrates more sexism than we find today in science. Therefore, if there is an article about a list of women bloggers, there is a reason. Before being snotty about women who participate, check out the reason. I really like the comments about the inappropriateness of discussing Michelle and her clothing. It is disturbing to read news stories about what this Harvard-trained lawyer is wearing. I had hoped B. Obama would bring this to public awarenesss, and that he and Michelle would be able to raise the consciousness of the nation. I guess to do so would cost too much public support. This tells us why we still have to endorse things like lists of women bloggers, women scientists, women politicians.

  2. MM
    MM says:

    this was too much time and energy on something really rather trivial and inconsequential….when women are finally out and about (honestly being seen AND heard), leave it to a woman to seek out something to complain about – JEEZ…. Noone ever says anything about MEN taking advantage of photo ops and/or having power lunches. Sometimes just by virtue of focusing on the petty and trite it points out issues, stereotypes and subjective issues which would have better served, never said.

  3. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    The Group of 20 (G20) is a group of 20 or so “developing” (i.e., underdeveloped) countries. The G8 countries showed up at the meeting, but they aren’t part of the G20.

    And this brings me to the point of all this. Other than the Latin American countries, almost all of the G20 are Muslim countries. Just how much leadership are women allowed to exert in those countries? Let’s see … zero, right?

  4. SM
    SM says:

    As to the irrelevance of women-only groups/magazines/blogger lists/whatever, I think criticizing those is a bunch of bull and trivializing in itself. If there’s an old boy network, which has traditionally gotten many things done (whether for good or ill), why not create an old girl’s network? Really. As a female entrepreneur, I feel pretty confident that other women are more likely to support other women and provide the valuable word of mouth needed for more business. I’ve received client referrals from both men and women peers/clients, but more from women. And I’m certain I work harder than male peers for landing new clients. I’m not saying it should be used instead of also generating business from male clients, yet using an OGN certainly helps other women get established. Who do you think is supporting all those SAHM blogs and making them profitable? That’s certainly not a male demographic readership. It’s women supporting women.

    Reminding the OBN that women are a viable and formidable adversary in the world of business is a message that doesn’t get old and it’s not trivializing.

  5. malcontent7
    malcontent7 says:

    One more word on Michelle’s high powered career. Please note that she got promoted and her salary virtually tripled to from $121,910 in 2004 to $316,962 in 2005 after her husband was elected to the Senate. Mind you this high powered position was at a non-profit hospital and the hospital came under a lot of fire for the timing of this promotion and increase. Not that anyone would every suggest there is corruption in Chicago politics.

  6. Bonnie McEwan
    Bonnie McEwan says:

    The fact that Penelope didn’t realize that there are two women in the G-20 is not the issue. It’s all about the reason Penelope didn’t realize and that’s because all of us, even those of us who try to be enlightened about these things, just don’t expect to see women fairly represented in the power groups that really matter.

    The question we should all be asking is why are there only two women in the G-20? Jeannette Rankin said, “We’re half the people, we should be half the Congress.” That means half the G-20 too.

  7. I Need Money
    I Need Money says:

    I think the media is obviously only interested in getting more viewership and readership. After all, it’s all about the money right? I say just leave it be – this isn’t something that will change anytime soon.

  8. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Penelope

    If we are going to complain about these practices, then there is probably a better question to ask.

    Why is it that men in high corporate or political positions seem to need women to validate their positions/ virility/ X-factor-du-jour, whereas women in similarly high positions seem to do well _without_ the need for such arm candy or photo-ops?

    So while Mr Obama needs a Michelle, Dr Singh needs a Gursharan Kaur, Mr Brown needs a Sarah, while Dr Angela Merkel does fine without a Joachim on her side, and Mrs Cristina Kirchner does not need a Nestor (of course, you completely missed noticing there were two women leaders at least one of whom got where she did without the patronage of her father or husband!).

    Besides, if some women get to pose in designer dresses, while the rest of us are content with blog posts or billing clients (some of us in our DvF and Thakoon gear we bought!), why complain at all? Are we jealous that we did not marry similarly powerful men whose positional upgrades in their jobs insure for us lifelong privileges that we can cash in over and over again? (Case in point: Cherie Booth Blair).

    Next time, some more research please :-) Politics isn’t everyone’s forte especially when writing about it in a business context.

    PS: I take it you won’t be at BlogHer then? And should it ever come to pass, that Queen Rania invites you, you will turn her invitation down? After all what can be the possible use, eh?

  9. Lucille Hall
    Lucille Hall says:

    Just a question – Why do you assume a subset implies inferiority? If you say someone is one of the top-10 Harvard grads in a year, no one would assume you mean that, as a subset of the rest of civilization, Harvard grads are inferior. You would certainly be implying that of the already high echelon of Harvard grads, this person ranks among the top. Subsets help us break down information; they do not ascribe rank by their mere existence. Frankly, I would be pleased to be among the top 100 women anything. Heck, even bloggers is a subset. Why not complain about not having been named as a top Internet writer, instead of just a lowly blogger.

  10. Ann Witbrock
    Ann Witbrock says:

    I think the real problem is that it is labelled a ‘wives’ club’. In this day, anything other than a partners’ club is political idiocy. I remember being horrified as a teenager in mid 70’s reading about a major british organisation (I think BBC) having a wives agenda during a symposium. The assumption is explicit, the institution expects the bystanders to be female. It would be nice to think that our political figures had the respect to put an open label on the position, so that by comparison we know we are expected to also be a part of the decision making group.

    On the other hand, a communal group where a subclass voluntarily comes together for a mutual need (not for exclusion purposes) should be able to be accommodated, in imperfect times.

  11. Yvette (in Boston)
    Yvette (in Boston) says:

    Hm. Emphasizing gender differences is a lot like being anti-affirmative action. Ideally, of course, we should all be treated fairly, our differences celebrated and not discriminated against, and equal opportunity for all. I think some of us really are “color blind” and “gender nuetral” (in the best sense of the words). I agree with PT, just ignore the gender references (and/or racial/ethnic ones) when you can, politely point out the rudeness of them if you feel you must, and play the game (i.e. watch our for your own interests first) as best you can. Ultimately, there are differences, big ones, but we have more in commen (men and women) than not (and much more in common between people of various amounts of melatonin in their skin). Whatever.

    Happy Spring/Passover/Easter, everyone.

  12. Wendy Carberg
    Wendy Carberg says:

    This particular post, like many that cover the experiences, struggles, and perceptions of women, is a roller coaster of inconsistency. At first, it appeared that you were calling woman to arms to not be paraded around…then, oh but a few sentences later, recognized that there is a game to be played.
    No doubt that we face our own set of challenges, but the most successful (and admirable) women define themselves not by their gender but by their sense of self…whether that be supporting their spouse, wearing a skirt in a room full of pants, or climbing their way to top in the same way everyone else does.
    I’ll have to ponder this a little and make it my next post on my blog http://www.LeadershipSoup.com.

  13. Tyler
    Tyler says:

    Wives’ Clubs are pretty much a stagnant entity among western nations that appears lingering in its past like heirlooms as it stands today an under-utilized institution, not necessarily over-rated. It’s the Wife, not the Club concept that’s the problem. In many developing eastern nations, Wives’ Clubs are often the most politically accepted and ‘politically-correct’ avenues to managing, dodging, surviving deep corruption in government circles. Wives’ Clubs are also a physically safe way (meaning you ‘might’ not get murdered) to increase power of political families or maintain a basic level of influence and protection for entire family bloodlines. This isn’t history; this stuff goes on today. Do not knock Wives’ Clubs. I thank my late aunt or else I would’ve never known my uncle. He survived more than a couple assassination attempts as a govt official. It took my aunt to convince a wife to convince her husband to convince the opposition to convince the assassin to lay down arms.

    • B
      B says:

      Yes, Hillary would have been a great U.S. President except that Bill undermined her during her campaigning and Obamania and Palinomania overwhelmed her. In the U.S.A., in politics, and almost anything else, education, quality, and experience, are detrimental.

  14. Ryan Cadden
    Ryan Cadden says:

    This is a generation where women are stepping up to the plate ready to hit one out of the ball park. For example Hilary was running for US presidents and was well prepared and looked like she was going to Win. She stepped up with all the big boys and battled it out with them. It doesn’t matter if she lost or anything, it just goes to show that women are becoming more and more powerful today.

    Pretty soon women are going to be running this world and men are just going to be sitting at home smoking Cuba’s finest cigars. Hell they deserve a good break since men have been running this world since we call all remember. It just makes sense for them to sit back and relax with a Cohiban Cigar rolled to prefection.

  15. Richard Wittlinger
    Richard Wittlinger says:

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