Stewart could still make society better

Monday, March 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:59 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

The jury is still out among my female friends as to whether or not Martha Stewart wound up in court simply because she was a successful woman or truly guilty of committing a crime. And it is true that there are a lot of corporate scoundrels who have robbed investors of billions who are still running around loose. Nevertheless, Stewart got caught, the prosecutors were able to make their case, and she was convicted. Undoubtedly, there are thousands of felons behind bars who could also claim that others as guilty as they were are still at large.

I’ve heard some women say they feel betrayed by Martha. They seem to believe that she seduced them by her pseudo-perfectionism into thinking that they too could somehow become goddesses of housewifery and all things domestic. I always saw her as a super saleswoman, a captain of capitalism and a not-very-nice person.

I am devoted to women’s causes, but I just don’t see how they apply in this case. I don’t feel that the cause of womanhood is championed anymore by women who behave like men than it is by woman who behave as sex objects. I think the cause is better served by women who set different behavior standards than those generally established by men. I would like to see women as heads of corporations who demonstrate exquisite manners, genuine kindness toward others (especially employees), honesty, exemplary business ethics and set examples on the way business should be done. It is unfortunate that successful women are often judged on what manly qualities they possess. I’ve never found “being one of the guys” a particularly attractive role.

Young women who are able to find a good role model in the person of their mothers, these days, are lucky. So many women appear to be stressed out from attempting to function in too many roles. Just the number of soccer games some young mothers are called upon to chaperone per season would be enough to drive me to distraction. I suppose on a day when everything possible goes wrong, I could imagine how someone could admire Martha Stewart’s cool, calm, collected, no-hair-out-of-place-except-by-design presence. I think the one good thing this woman did, perhaps without trying, was demonstrate that people can recreate themselves into the kind of person they want to be. The hope would be that they would do it from the inside out.

Like many people, though, I have grown weary with folks who choose to deceive themselves by believing in deceptive individuals. The old saying, “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see,” was never more apropos than in these days when lying ranks alongside hot dogs, baseball and apple pie among America’s favorite things. The joke being circulated that you can’t post commandments against lying and stealing in courtrooms because it would provide a hostile environment for judges and lawyers is more sad than funny. It’s gotten to the point where some people don’t even expect others to tell the truth. They assume they will be lied to when buying a car, a house or a computer. So, it’s no wonder that there are those who don’t see that Martha Stewart committed any crime. “All she did was lie,” these people are saying.

A woman who is head of a corporation and a billionaire could do a lot of good, if she chose to, even from jail. When you consider the thousands of hours many ordinary folks, some of whom are on fixed incomes, contribute to their communities through volunteerism, we can only imagine how much good someone with billions of dollars could do to help make the world a more humane place. As many have found out, dire circumstances can sometimes be redemptive.

I’m sure there are people who think that the rich deserve all the ill fortune that comes their way. What I regret is that some of the rich feel that their wealth entitles them to treat others badly. They often find out the hard way that what goes around does, in fact, come around. This is one of those things that should be taught while still in their mother’s arms.

As one who did not grow up as a privileged child, Martha Stewart probably already knows that our prisons are not the kind of places most of us want to call home. It may never have occurred to her that this is one more issue that people of influence could weigh in on from their privileged positions in high places.

Out of all this corporate corruption, maybe there will be an opportunity to teach future billionaires the lesson of reciprocity. Giving back to the community which has nurtured your ambitions is to spread good karma.

Right now, our country could use a good dose of that.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen

by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her


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