Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I'm Not Ready to Make Nice

There are an awful lot of us who know what it feels like to live with the double standard of being female in male-dominated environments. We’ve earned less pay for doing the same work as men. We’ve been criticized for leaving work early to care for a sick child, while the man down the hall is praised as a "great dad" when he leaves early to watch his son’s softball game. We’ve been interrupted by men more often, and we’ve had our opinions disregarded because we speak with softer voices. We’ve been told we’re too friendly with the secretaries, and we’ve been criticized for being cold or snooty when we don’t join in the girl talk in the lunch room. We’ve fended off comments about appearing too feminine or seductive at the office, and we’ve been mocked for trying to dress "like a man" when we downplay the shapes of our bodies or wear more practical pants suits. We’ve been passed over for raises or promotions in favor of the man in the next office, who "needs" the increase "more" because "he’s supporting a family." We’re weak and hormonal if we cry, and we’re cold and unemotional if we don’t. Having seen how men behave in the workplace, we emulate their behaviors and are called hard and emasculating and bitchy.

We know how impossibly hard it is to be a strong, smart, outspoken, and competitive woman in a setting men are used to controlling. It’s an uncomfortable and difficult balance to achieve, especially with constant grace and humor and level-headedness. Most of all, we know how it feels to be expected, without question, to sit down and be quiet and stop complaining and instead defer to a man sitting next to us at the conference table... even if he is younger, less qualified, less knowledgeable, or less experienced.

So it’s no wonder that a lot of us are angry as this primary race is coming to a close. It has been discouraging and saddening to watch this same double standard play out so plainly as two qualified, ground-breaking presidential candidates have made this primary race one of which we should have been proud.

Tonight, even as Barack Obama was being feted for being the first african american to win a major party’s candidacy – which to be sure is a momentous, wonderful, historical event – I cannot help but chafe at the open hostility directed at Hillary Clinton for her failure to give in, sit down and shut up.

As journalist Steven Stark pointed out recently in the Boston Phoenix, a candidate has never been vilified for continuing a candidacy the way Hillary Clinton has. To the contrary, past candidates have been praised for their perseverance as they’ve taken their fights all the way to the conventions. As Stark summarized:

"• In 1988, Jesse Jackson took his hopeless campaign against winner Michael Dukakis all the way to the convention, often to great media praise.

• In 1980, Ted Kennedy carried his run against Jimmy Carter all the way to the convention, even though it was clear he had been routed.

• In 1976, Ronald Reagan contested the "inevitability" of Gerald Ford all the way to the convention. Few, then or since, have ever thought to criticize Reagan’s failure to step aside and let Ford assume the mantle.

• Also in 1976, three candidates — Mo Udall, Jerry Brown, and Frank Church — ran against Jimmy Carter all the way through the final primaries, even though Carter seemed more than likely to be the eventual nominee.

• Even in 1960, Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson fought the "certain" nomination of John F. Kennedy all the way to the convention floor.

In fact, until this year, it’s been an axiom of American politics that candidates are allowed to pursue their runs until they decide to drop out — which is usually, by the way, when they run out of money. Even Mike Huckabee kept running against John McCain in this campaign long after it was obvious he had no hope of winning the GOP nod."

At the culminating point of one of the closest races in modern history, the election results aren’t official. The delegate count has been affected by bizarre, unprecedented "guess-timating" wholly unrelated to actual vote results, a certainly troubling and possibly unconstitutional result with far-reaching implications for future elections.
And nevertheless, people are expressing outrage that Hillary Clinton didn’t see fit to "give the night" to Barack Obama.

I’m proud that our country (the democratic half, anyway) can put forward a smart, passionate, and idealistic candidate like Barack Obama, and I recognize that it’s a significant and hopeful moment in our country’s race relations.

But I’m angry and sad and ashamed that so many in our country can’t celebrate the rise of the first significant black candidate without simultaneously (and almost gleefully) trying to stomp the first significant female candidate down.

We’ve come a long way, baby ... but apparently we’re not good sports if we expect to make it over the finish line.


  1. Hear, hear! She wasn't my favorite to win, but you're absolutely right about the double standard and unnecessary viciousness of the race.

  2. Wow. You sound bitter. I'm also a female in a traditionally male profession so I know what you are talking about. I agree that dads get a star for being a good parent and many women don't. I don't think that is fair, either.

    Here is my two cents: A lot of us have worked very hard to be taken seriously. I get frustrated because our pop culture encourages our young women to dress and be just plan silly. With that backdrop, I think we are going to have a hard time being taken seriously. Let's get real. Men aren't the only ones with a double standard.

    I think a lot of of want the reputation of being a "wise woman," annd we want that to be the predominate perception of women, by me. By that, we want women to be perceived as warm, loving, kind, strong, intuitive, thoughtful, intelligent, hardworking, noble. Some of us really are wise women. However, a lot of us don't act like that.

    Step back and look at what men see instead of what we want them to believe. We gossip, buy gossip rags and discuss Britney like she is our daughter. We get pedicures and treat ourselves to spa days - a self indulgence that would be cause for ridicule in men. We are proud of being "girlie girls." We wear silly, impractical clothes. We get cosmetic surgery (frequently to make ourselves appear more sexually desirable) and do all but jump out of our clothes in public to get attention from men. We publicly dive into a crate of ice cream to soothe ourselves after a break up instead of acting with dignity. We spend more money than we have for empotional reasons. "Retail therapy" is NOT a myth and everytime we tell people that we bought something to make ourselves feel better - stop and think how men are going to interpret that. We flash our engagement rings to impress our girlfriends - shouting to the world that our stock just went up because some man is willing to shell out cash to call us his fiance. We complain about cramps in public, frequently using that as an excuse to miss school or work. We talk about how hard it is, all the time. ALL THE TIME. We complain about our husbands, get into silly spats with our sisters, mothers and best friends over trivial things. Talk to any man and he will express complete exasperation at how utterly irratic and emotional his sisters and girlfriends behave. The ones who are no longer frustrated simply take it on faith that women are frequently "out of their mind" and they have learned to live with it. Let's be honest. Forget what is being said at work and in the media. THIS IS HOW WOMEN BEHAVE IN THEIR PRIVATE LIVES AND MEN ARE WATCHING ALL THE TIME. We want men to believe we have all the traits of the wise women. Our personal relationships tell us otherwise, sadly. I am a lot more exasperated with our silly women than I am with the men. I completely understand why so many of them think we are too irratic to be good leaders. I don't agree with them but let's be fair about who is giving them bullets to shoot us with. We can't act like idiots as a group and expect men (simple as they are - :)) - to be able to discern who is wise and who is foolish. They've all been the "victim" of some female silliness that makes absolutely no sense to them. So ladies, the next time you rely on your gender as an excuse to be silly or weak - remember today's blog and how you are contributing to the likelihood that women will or won't be taken seriously.

    Ladies, we have to save ourselves. Scolding and whining won't do it. Men may give us lip service (to shut us up) but behind our backs, they will ridicule us if we act like lightweight loons.

  3. i don't know if this helps but as an african american and a fierce supporter who was skeptical until January about his campaign...i know that ths struggle for liberation doesn't lay in who will hold office but will and is on-going for those of us concerned for justice for all...on-going because our institutions, assumptions are so entrenched as inherited from our history...those in office are measured by the degree they are/will impede the struggle for the evolution of freedom, be it sexism, racism, humanism, etc.

  4. If I sound bitter, I think it's because I'm bitterly disappointed. Not at the outcome of the race -- but at how one woman's determined participation in it has been so harshly criticized when she is doing exactly what men before her have done to overall acceptance and praise.

    Penny, I disagree with pretty much every aspect of your comment. It makes me sad that you have such a poor view of your own gender. But I appreciate your expressing yourself about it.

    And Karoda, thanks for your comment. I agree that the struggle for fairness is an ongoing one, reaching far beyond who is in what office.

    We'll all move forward, and I'll proudly support Obama as my presidential candidate. My disappointment has never been about him as a candidate.

    But I'll always be bothered when I see people apply an unfair double standard to the conduct of different genders, or races. I hope others will be, too. We can't change it if we don't see it, acknowledge it, and refuse to accept it.

  5. First of all, I appreciate the discussion and think you wrote a very nice post. My earlier post was not as articulate as it might have been and I want to clarify that I believe most women are mistresses of overcoming adversity; we generally live our lives with courage and dignity; most aren't afraid to work; we try to stand up for what is right; many are more worried about substance than appearance. If that is what women were all about, I'd COMPLETELY agree with your original post.

    At the same time, I think it is honest to admit that plenty of women are frivolous, self centered, weak, irrational and/or silly. They flit from place to place going out of their way to come across as intellectually shallow, consumed with appearance, attention, status and money - and the money of their man is at least as good as the money they earn themselves (maybe better because it implies she is desirable and can attract a wealthy suitor). There are a LOT of women like this and that behavior is encouraged by pop culture. For the sake of this discussion, let me refer to them as “Silly Women.” Those qualities aren't attractive in men OR women but - and here is a problem - a lot of women think they'll be excused from such silliness because they are women. Moreover, a lot of men AND women think that defines us as women (I completely disagree).

    I agree with you that many men misjudge many women. To my way of thinking, that is just PART of the problem. I don't buy into the position that the problem is primarily caused by men just being jerks. The difficult part of the problem, to my way of thinking, is that there is a basis in fact for their attitudes. Telling someone they are wrong when their experience tells them otherwise is rarely effective. You can't change minds without addressing the facts upon which opinions are based.

    Back in lawschool, we used to talk about judicial opinions using "happy facts" to justify their ruling. Happy facts, of course, are using only the facts that support a ruling and ignoring the ones that don't. With all due respect, to lambaste men (and people like me?) for being dismissive of some women seeking positions of authority, without conceding that many women tend to act silly and irrational seems like the use of "happy facts."

    Distinguishing between Silly Women (who clearly exist and have the backing of pop culture to authenticate their characteristics) and the rest of us, is a useful argument to advance our credibility. At least I think it is. It is not a rational analysis to say, "She is a woman, therefore she is credible," OR "She is a woman, therefore, she is irrational." The rational analysis is to say, "She is a woman - what is the content of her character?" I don't think you disagree with me on that, but you DO seem to be distressed that I took it a step further by saying, in so many words, that I understand why there is a prejudice that would keep some from even reaching that question. I believe that until the basis of a prejudice is addressed in a manner that makes sense to the individual, it won't change. The real hurdle for women when it comes to being taken seriously is to: 1) face the fact that some will have their prejudices; 2) respect/understand the basis of those prejudices; and 3) demonstrate why those prejudices do not apply to them.

    I hope you can see that I am saying this respect. You clearly think through what you write, which is why I enjoy reading your blog.

  6. I believe a candidate owes it to the people who supported or invested in his/her campaign to go to the bitter end. This is the most powerful and important job in the US and they should fight to the death especially since they believe they are the right person for the job. I congratulate Hillary Clinton for being a strong woman and not backing down when many have discounted her. To borrow a silly phrase - You Go Girl!! By the way, I'm sure like all of you - I am proud to be a woman and would never want to be a man.

  7. I understand better Diane and can empathise with your disappointment. Sometimes I'm like I'm not surprised and then other times I'm deeply wounded by our inhumanity one to another.

  8. Diane: I love an honor you so much. I am so sorry that you are feeling this much pain. I was in pain last night, too, but for a different reason.

    Perhaps, Hillary was the victim of some sexism. But what about the comments she made regarding Obama and his campaign. He is not a muslim - as far as I know. I am winning hard working WHITE people. etc.

    Can we just agree that we had two very unique and incredible candidates and racism as well as sexism were factors. And one could say that McCain is facing agism.

    Obama ran the smarter campaign and he won, and I felt as if she punched me in the pit of my stomach when she did not acknowledge that last night. She had a golden opportunity to take the high road and she chose not to.

    Lets move on!

  9. Once again, I found your post to be very well-written, passionate, and accurate.

    I applaud Hillary Clinton for raising the glass ceiling a few more painful, hard-gotten inches for those who follow.

  10. I still give credit for carrying yourself forward with the courage of personal conviction; when someone gives in it is oftener said that they just did not have what it takes.

    I have been dreaming of Hillary running for President since 1995.
    yes I am saddened that her campaign was eclipsed by a man. That is what I see - Barack is a man; idealistic, mesmerizing, determined and ambitious. I keep thinking that race should be left aside from the equation.

    Yes he is capable and gives hope so I will support whoever steps forward and undertakes the needed changes.

    I just feel that America should be so ready for a woman and I wonder why the talk about H is often so "bitchy".

  11. Diane, I don't think you sound bitter at all, just observant about reality. It is too bad that there are so many women who aren't able to connect what happens to a presidential candidate to their own lives. I certainly did and it scared the beejebers out of me to see the vitriol and hate directed at Hillary by the media, *just because* she was a woman daring to do something different. But the really good promising news that I come away with from this year is that this generation of teenagers who were paying a bit of attention to the primary race will in the future not see a woman running for president as anything exceptional. How cool is that?!

    Did you see the bit about sexism and Hillary on the Daily Show? It literally had me in tears. Summing up in a subversive, hilarious way the exact points you make in your post here.