Sunday, October 13, 1996
Some women get a taste of real power

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Let me tell you about a meeting at the Queen City Club and see whether you don't think that this is just typical of what will happen when a bunch of women get together.

Members of the YWCA Academy of Career Women of Achievement put on their power suits and climbed the stairs at the Queen City Club on Fourth Street. This is not the part that is typical. Until rather recently, women were not welcomed into this institution unaccompanied by a prosperous and important man.

But now, this club not only welcomes female members, but women sit on its board of directors and have been invited to join its even more exclusive Commercial Club. I guess someone has noticed that women can chew gum and read a balance sheet at the same time.

The enlightened men who opened the doors to female members eight years ago must have been confident that we would not disrupt the purpose of the club. The purpose, of course, is getting together over food to decide who gets jobs and money and influence.

These are the reasons we wanted to be there all these years. It was not for the Senegalese soup and macaroons.

Jobs, money, clout

The academy includes most all of the women in Cincinnati who pack commercial wallop, plus judges, politicians and artists. Lovie Ross, a successful African-American contractor and part-owner of some radio stations, is a member.

So is Ginger Kent, head of Hasbro Toys, with sales of $800 million. I didn't see her at the dinner. She's probably developing some new female action hero. How about a Ginger Kent doll, a thoroughly nice, modern woman who leaps tall problems in a single bound while tending a family and supporting good causes?

I did see Charlotte Otto, the first woman to serve on the executive committee of Procter & Gamble Co., and Dale Brown, whose marketing communications firm does $45 million in business annually.

This is a very fancy group of women.

Most of them brought someone along. ''Lift as you climb,'' is the YWCA motto, so everybody was encouraged to bring a guest who might like to meet the women who were there. Typical.

And here is the most typical thing. After these women finished their white wine and Perrier with lime, their poached chicken and fish, their tiny salads and asparagus, after servers cleared the Villeroy and Boch china, the main event began.

And the main event was not improving their portfolios or planning hostile takeovers. The main event was a former welfare mother and daughter of a drunk, who gave these important women ''practical information about how to stay alive.''

Sarah Buel is a Texas prosecutor, nationally recognized expert on domestic violence, honors graduate of Harvard Law School, battered woman. Watching the audience, listening intently, some taking notes, I wondered which ones have been on the receiving end of a fist themselves.

Somebody has. You can bet on it. In a group of 100 or so women, somebody has been battered or their mother has been or their sisters or daughters. Maybe they don't talk about it.

Why do they stay?

''I felt ashamed, that it must be my fault,'' Ms. Buel says. ''I never heard anyone else talking about it. I assumed I was the only one it was happening to.''

She's often asked why women don't just get out. She answers patiently that there are about half as many shelters for battered women as for stray animals, and most do not accept children. ''We trade our safety for poverty. We go back because we don't know what else to do.''

CEOs, doctors, lawyers, artists, VPs - the women listening are also caregivers, in one way or another. I don't know whether it is cultural or a little bonus that travels on the X chromosome. It's just a hard habit to break.

The women listening to Sarah Buel are not poor. They are, in fact, well-heeled. Many have employees. All of them have friends. Some of them are beginning to have some real power. Some of them will use it wisely, lifting as they climb.


Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.