Women, work and the art of gender judo

When asked at a September fundraiser in San Francisco how she manages as a woman in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand explained that most senators are older men, so they see her as a daughter. Rather than dismissing her, they have been helpful and protective, especially when she was pregnant while serving in the House. In this way, the New York Democrat is able to translate something relatively unfamiliar and potentially threatening — a female senator — into something comfortable and familiar. That comfort level allows her to build relationships and get other senators’ support for legislation.

Powerful women often take feminine stereotypes that can hold women back — the selfless mother and the dutiful daughter, for example — and use those stereotypes to propel themselves forward. I call it gender judo. The martial art of judo, which means “gentle way” in Japanese, focuses on using your opponent’s momentum to overpower him.

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