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Posts Tagged ‘john boehner’

More than you might think.

Especially for us women, who are often sabotaged by words in ways most of us don’t even recognize.  Language, says Santa Clara University professor Laura Ellingson, an expert on gendered communication, can shape our thoughts and perceptions, uphold double standards, and reinforce stereotypes.

Half the time, we don’t even notice.

All this came to mind this weekend when I came across a piece in the New York Times by business writer Phyllis Korkki, who explored the reasons why women’s progress into the top tiers of the workforce had stalled. Many of those reasons related to entrenched — and often unconscious — sexism. No real surprises there. But one paragraph in particular caught my eye:

[Ilene H. Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst] maintains that unintentional bias is built into performance review systems. Words like “aggressive” may be used to describe ideal candidates — a label that a man can wear much more comfortably than a woman.

More comfortably?  There’s an understatement for you. Which prompted me to start making a list of other ways in which words can keep us in our place.

One of the first contenders in my  double-standard category — after aggressive, of course –is “ambitious”.  An ambitious man is the type of guy most parents want their daughters to marry.  But an ambitious woman? Think Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada”.  The media tell us ambitious women are calm, cold and conniving.  They not only lose their friends, but their bedmates, too.  Which may be why, as longtime Vanity Fair contributing editor Leslie Bennetts once wrote in a piece titled “The Scarlet A” in Elle magazine, owning our ambition may be the last taboo:

Over the past three decades, I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most celebrated women: queens and princesses, senators and rock stars, moguls and movie legends, first ladies and fashion titans. Some were barracudas whose appetite for power would make Machiavelli look like a pushover, but only one ever owned up to being ambitious.

Ouch. Another double-standard for the A-list is “assertive.”  For men, that’s an admirable trait. When they step up and ask, they often receive.  For women? We often don’t bother to ask. And when we do, we run the risk of being tagged pushy.  You know, not feminine. Or, a little more charitably, “feisty”  Which itself is more than just a little demeaning.

Santa Clara University communication professor Charlotta Kratz, whose area is the portrayal of minorities in the media,  points out that performance evaluations are often based on the measurement of what are generally considered to be male traits.  Organization — think linear thinking — is one.  Another is the fact that while women process — we talk things through —  men act.  “Process is female, action is male, and the female talk gets looked down upon as unnecessary,” she says.

True, that.  And then there are words used to characterize our moods. When a male colleague goes wiggy on us, we’re likely to say “he’s lost it.”  As in, momentary aberration.  When a woman does the same, however, she’s often dismissed as “emotional” (read: bad).  Or “menstrual” (read: worse).  Or even menopausal (read: worse yet).  In any case, not to be taken seriously.

Let’s not forget the tear factor. When Speaker of the House John Boehner wept on “60 Minutes” a while back, he was “sensitive.”  When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton cried back in 2008 when she was on the campaign trail, she was portrayed as “emotional” — there’s that word again — as in not presidential.

Other double standards have to do with parenthood. As we point out in Undecided, studies show that a female employee who wears her mom-hood on her sleeve is likely to be perceived as a flight risk.  Other studies, however, show that when a man plays the dad card, his stock often rises.  He becomes a “family man”.  To wit: what a guy! What’s funny is that when that same mom stays home with the kids while dad takes a business trip, she’s, well, home with the kids.  Turn the tables, and dad is babysitting.

Language slaps our personal lives into submission as well:  A woman without a mate is either unmarried — as in, poor thing — or a spinster. Ugh.  A man in the same boat, however, is single. Or better yet, a bachelor. We all know what that means. He’s a catch.  Throw sex into the equation and we’ve got another humdinger of a double standard.  When it comes to bedroom action, as Jessica Valenti wrote in the first essay of her book of the same name: “He’s a stud, She’s a slut.”  Enough said.

The list goes on.  When a man takes charge, especially in the boardroom, he is forceful.  A good thing.  When a woman does the same, especially at home, she’s often called controlling.  Likewise, when a man pushes his staff to the limit, he’s a good leader.  His female counterpart? Excuse the term: A ball-breaker.  Even clothing carries its own weight.  As Ellingson points out, when a male prof wears an old pair of jeans to class, he’s cool.  When a woman does the same: sloppy.

Back to that piece in the New York Times, Korkki hits on another double standard that comes to kick us in the bank account: the ability — or lack of same — to self-promote.  It’s a plus for men, who are expected to “showboat a little.” But women? Not so much. We’re expected to be modest, to praise others instead of ourselves.  Or else we’ll take a dive on the likability scale. Which might, in fact, jeopardise our position. But you know what’s coming next: if there’s a promotion to be had, you can guess who’s most likely to get it.

Ahem.  Word.

 

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Welcome to 2011.  Whether you happen to be a member of roughly one-half the population or  just a human being, you’re sure to find something below to make you think.

Or possibly scream.

First up, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who apparently believes that the 14th Amendment — that’s the one that talks about equal protection under the law — does not apply to women.  That’s what he told UC Hastings College of the Law professor Calvin Massey in an interview published in the latest issue of California Lawyer.  Here you go:

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

No comment.

Actually, the above is what we might expect from one of the right-most justices on the nation’s highest court.  But look what we find over there at the considerably more enlightened New Yorker, courtesy of a caustic note from Anne Hayes, who fired off this letter to the editors of the elite periodical:

I am writing to express my alarm that this is now the second issue of the NYer in a row where only two (tiny) pieces out of your 76 page magazine are written by women.  The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson).  Every other major piece—the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces—is written by a man.  Every single critic is a male writer.

We were already alarmed when we flipped through the Dec 20th & 27th double-issue to find that only one piece (Nancy Franklin) and one poem (Alicia Ostriker) were written by women.

She ended her letter by saying that she was enclosing the current issue of the magazine with her letter — and expected a refund.  Love it.

And then there’s Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who tearfully took the gavel Wednesday as the new Speaker of the House.  Maybe you like him, maybe you don’t, but what his aides have said — and what the “Pledge to America” spells out as job one — is the repeal of the health care overhaul, which, incidentally, has been estimated to save $140 billion over the next ten years.  (Um, remember who pays the price when health insurance isn’t a guarantee? More below.)  The new Republican platform spells out its agenda thus:  Cut the federal budget — without raising taxes or cutting military defense spending.  You can probably guess where the cuts will come.   This from the guy who cries at the plight of families.

Prepare to weep, because we also find out from ABC News that Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn), founder and chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, is considering a run for the White House.  Yep.  We’ve yet to have a woman president — or even a woman make it past the primaries — and this is what we get?  Another name to add to the list of women who call themselves women, politicians who, like Boehner, like everything about family values — unless of course you define those values in terms of the support, like the new health care plan, that enables them to survive.  As we wrote back in November, when California distinguished itself by having two such women on the ballot, a skirt does not a woman make, nor does a skirt make a woman a friend of families:

Because who suffered most under our our health care system of old?  Women.  And when women suffer, it’s often the kids who pay the price.  So much for those family values.  But let’s recall a few things we may have forgotten about the old way of health care.  Pregnancy:  pre-existing condition.  Women:  statistically more  likely to work  part-time jobs (so they can care for their kids) that do not provide benefits.   Sure, all is well and good for ladies who can depend on well-employed husbands for heath care benefits.  But what if he loses his job?  Hard to afford COBRA on a part time salary.  Or no salary.  Or even one salary, for that matter.

And what if she’s a single mother?  Sorry, kids.  No doc for you…

And finally, there’s that scandal over the raunchy navy videos.  You know the ones:  mocking women and gays as a boys-will-be-boys bonding exercise.  Let’s go over to salon, where Tracy Clark-Flory (hey, where did Broadsheet go?) reports on her interview with anthropologist Lionel Tiger, author of “Men in Groups,” who says that this all this  stuff is a way to build, you know, brotherhood.  Especially when you’re stuck at sea:

There is an “intrinsic tension from living together in a relatively crowded environment for long periods of time,” and on a warship at sea, no less. That tension demands a release, and humor is a necessary outlet — but laughs aren’t the only motivator. Sexual stereotypes “reinforce the in-group feeling,” he says. Women, who were banned from serving on submarines until just last year, are “an easy out-group to pick on,” he says, and so are gays, who may soon be allowed to serve openly in the military. In both cases, it serves to prop up the heterosexual male norm, allowing for a touchy-feely-but-totally-not-gay “brotherhood.”

This Tiger person says that it’s important to know why this kind of stuff happens.  Clark-Flory takes it a step further, pointing out that the real issue is why this kind of stuff is allowed to happen.

Oh wait, there’s one more thing more that kind of takes us back to Shannon’s last two posts, on likability and ambition.  Ms Magazine’s January cover will feature Nancy Pelosi, who the magazine calls the “Most Effective Speaker Ever”, who passed more significant new public policy — from health care reform to the stimulus bill to the repeal of DADT —  than any Speaker in the last 50 years.  The magazine notes that even Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says that Pelosi “ranks with the most consequential speakers, certainly in the last 75 years.” But Ms. also notes this:

If Pelosi’s efficacy is news to some, it’s because the media has often snubbed her. Neither Time nor Newsweek featured Pelosi on their covers in all the time she was Speaker (in contrast, Ms. put her on the cover immediately upon her inauguration). Both Time and Newsweek, however, have run covers featuring John Boehner—before he became Speaker.

That sound you hear is steam hissing from my ears.  Back to the future?  You be the judge.

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So today I thought I’d offer a quick riff about double standards.

Case number one, the most obvious:  Rep. John Boehner’s weepathon on “60 Minutes.”  The prospective Speaker of the House cries.  Don’t know why.  But as USC Professor Kathleen Reardon points out on HuffPo, it’s perfectly fine — if somewhat creepy — if a Republican male cries on TV, but can you imagine the outcry if Nancy Pelosi had done the same?  From Reardon’s post (Note:  videos from “60 Minutes” are embedded here):

Men get to cry with impunity lately, especially those considered tough, stiff, distant, difficult, demanding or dispassionate. The context matters; nowadays in politics talking about old friends, soldiers, children, harm done to one’s family, or personal challenges provide opportunities when a tear or two can do more good than harm.

Republican crying is more acceptable than Democratic crying because liberals are expected to be softer – “bleeding hearts.” Republicans are perceived as tougher, less sensitive, often more concerned with business priorities. So, crying works well for them. It’s the violation of expectations that makes conservative crying persuasive. It’s the beauty of not being predictable.

Women, whether in business or politics, are in a more difficult position with regard to any sort of emoting. Since it is expected of them, crying doesn’t serve as a balancing technique. It merely confirms that they are soft. Of course, if a woman like Margaret Thatcher were to shed a tear, it would violate expectations and in the right context might serve her well — once or twice.

Yet the tough Nancy Pelosi won’t take that risk. When asked about John Boehner’s tendency to cry, Pelosi responded:

“You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.”

You can’t blame Pelosi. She remembers what happened to Hillary Clinton.

So do we.  She cried on the campaign trail.  And was roundly castigated for it:  How, you know, like a woman to be so emotional.  And so it goes.  Need we say more?

Case in point number two:  While reading the paper on Sunday, I came across a curious, dated expression not once but twice.  Family Man.  As an accolade.  Really, hadn’t that phrase had gone the way of the beehive hairdo?  Apparently not.  The first reference came via a column about our newly elected District Attorney and his newly appointed chief deputy, his best friend.  The columnist took pains to note that both were “dedicated family men”, each with two kids.  The subtext?  Well, it might have been to note that though the two men are close, they are decidedly hetero.  But that’s beside the point.  The implication is that, because they are fathers, well, you can trust them to get the job done.  More in a minute.

The second reference was to some movie star or other.  I think it was Matt Damon.  But again — and I’m embarrassed to admit that I read such stuff, but what the hell, it gave me meat for a riff — shortly after the nutgraf, he was described as a “family man.”  As in, what a guy!

Now, I like families as much as the next girl.  I have one of my own, which I guess means you could call my husband a dedicated family man.  But have you ever heard of a “family woman”?  Yeah, thought not.  And here’s where that double standard comes in.  As we discuss (okay, at length) in our book, studies have shown that women are held back in their careers because they have families, which is bad enough, but also because they might have families.  It’s called the maternal wall, and there’s an impenetrable bias there.  As one of our sources, University of Illinois business professor Jenny Hoobler, told us: “ If a man has a picture of a child in the office, it makes them look like they’re stable, like a good, solid trustworthy employee, but if a woman has pictures in the office, it looks like, uh-oh, she’s not really dedicated to the career.  Will she leave the workplace early to pick up her kids?  Will she take an extended maternity leave?  Will she even come back after the birth of her next child?”

Ugh, right?  Right?

And then, there’s this: A study on fathers out of the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that the dads confirmed that having a baby enhanced their self-image at work, in terms of reputation, credibility and even career options.

I’m sure there are a plenty more examples, but, frankly, I’m off to find my Kleenex.  And so, I leave the cries and whispers to you.  Anything to add?

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