Call them the founding mothers. Cece Hardacker and Tonya Hart (from Two Fish), along with Heidi Vance and Jayne Ertel(from Team Blonde) were the people who started the energy packed consortium of business people on Madison Street known as M2 which is, in Hardacker’s words, “rocking this town.”

Add Connie Brown from Brown Cow, Carol Goddard from McAdam Nursery, Betty Clarkson and Dana Smith from Chix with Stix, Dorothy Gillian from Main Street, Laurie Kokenes from the Chamber, Tracy Cammack from La Piazza, Jeanine Guncheon from Gallery Etcetera, Jodi Gianakopoulos from Old School Records and others and what do you have? You have a whole lot of women taking leadership roles in the marketing of Forest Park and its downtown business district.

The fact that there are so many women in this new generation of entrepreneurs in town is news in itself, but even more so is the way they do business. If you hang around these businesswomen long enough, you’ll begin to see that they do business in a different way. Cece Hardacker coined the term socialist capitalism. Women’s libber’s might call it feminine entrepreneurship. Others might say it’s cooperative competition.

To help you understand what I’ve been observing I’m going to lay out some of the contrasts Anne Wilson Schaef, author of “Women’s Reality,” contends differentiate what she calls the White Male System from the Female System.

In the White Male System, she says, relationships are conceived of as being either one-up or one-down. In the Female System, relationships are conceived of as peer until proven otherwise.

And sure enough, in M2, a.k.a. Madison Street Merchants, there are no officers. Everyone’s opinion is solicited, even that of this reporter.

In the White Male System, the center of the universe is self and work. In the Female System, the center of the universe is relationships.

Schaef acknowledges that people functioning in the Female System can be dedicated to their work, but with a difference. “It [work] is not profit and power oriented;” she writes, “instead, it takes its meaning from creativity, bonding, humaneness, and service.” Now, I’ve seen the “women of Madison Street” get plenty excited about making a profit, but I’ve also learned that the women at Team Blonde chose to leave careers as an accountant and a lawyer to do what they love.

In the White Male System, power is conceived of in a zero sum fashion. Meanwhile, in the Female System, power is seen as limitless.

Schaef writes, “The White Male System assumes that. . .the more one shares power or gives it up to others, the less one has for himself. . . .In the Female System, power is viewed in much the same way as love. It is limitless, and when it is shared it regenerates and expands.”

As I have watched M2 function, the only power anyone seems to care about is the energy of their consortium to make life better for everyone involved.

In the White Male System, leadership means to lead, whereas in the female System, leadership means to facilitate”to enable others to make their contributions while simultaneously making one’s own.

M2 meetings seem to always end up with the formation of sub-groups comprised of members who are empowered to do their own thing and bring it back to the next meeting as a contribution to the whole. Attempts at control seem to be at a minimum.

In the White Male System, rules exist to control others and limit their freedom. In the Female System, rules are developed to increase individual freedom rather than to impose limits.

If there is a criticism of M2 meetings, it is that the absence of rules and structure sometimes make what is happening seem like chaos.

It’s the kind of chaos, however, that is necessary for thinking outside the box and being creative. Control freaks would have a real problem with the M2 way of processing ideas.

Finally, in the White Male System, decision making follows Roberts Rules of Order while in the Female System decision making is a consensual process.

Roberts Rules create an adversarial decision making process in which 51 percent of the group can “win.” Consensual decision making sometimes can take longer, on the front end especially, but once a decision is made,it tends to be owned by everyone because everyone was included in the process. That’s the way M2 operates.

Now Schaef lists many other differences between the conceptual constructs she calls the White Male System and the Female System, and you can take her analysis for what it is worth. She does acknowledge that just because you are a woman does not mean that you operate according to the Female System, and that each system can be functional in certain situations.

Neither do I want to idealize the women of M2. None of them pretends to be Mother Theresa. What’s more, there are many men in M2 who are perfectly comfortable not being male chauvinist pigs.

My point is that there seems to be something new happening on Madison Street, and I like it. Letty Russell in The Future of Partnership talks about a Post-Modern revolution in which everyone wins. “What if they gave a revolution and everybody won?” she asks, quoting a book by Eric Mount.

“There is such a possibility present in the changing consciousness of women and men about their life-styles and roles in society. And if it happened that people learned to live more humanly and cooperatively, surely that would be a ‘revolution of freedom.'”