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Posts Tagged ‘Newsweek’

In the ever-escalating fetishization of the female form, I was left scratching my head once again when I opened the latest issue of Newsweek to find a quick take on Paris Fashion Week. The story focused on the untimely collapse of a few high-rent benches at the Balenciaga show. News, right?

But what sent me hollering for the fashion police were two of the three images in the photo spread: a silky pastel Rochas number that could best be described as underpants with a jacket and a full-pager of a Balenciaga outfit that combined a colorful broad shouldered shirt with, um, jogging shorts. You know, the kind that went out of fashion with side-ponytails.

In both cases, the preternaturally long-legged models had that don’t-eff-with-me look on their faces as, I assume, they power-strutted the runway. And yet: color me baffled. Who of us could wear this stuff, even if we wanted to?  And why, with all the designs from all the spring collections out there, did Newsweek choose to highlight these?

Is this supposed to be the vision of the empowered woman?

Now most of us are jaded enough to know that most of what we see on the catwalk is rarely what we’ll see on the sidewalk – or even on the sales rack. But you have to wonder what these images tell us about ourselves nonetheless.

It’s an old, oft-repeated story: the focus on cadaverous models on the runways and in fashion magazines has been shown to contribute to bad body image among women and young girls. And whether we cop to it or not, we’ve let media images define us since we were old enough to flip the pages of Seventeen Magazine. But there’s more to the story than that.  What we can’t help wondering is what these high fashion images say about women’s place in the world.  Clearly, you’d have a hard time accessorizing bun-hugging shorts with a laptop – or even a cocktail, for that matter — much less be taken seriously.

We women today have been raised with sky-high expectations, with the message we could have it all: killer career, happy family, sexy body and granite in the kitchen. And while we know that having it all, at least all at the same time, can be a dangerous pipe dream that leaves us second-guessing ourselves and feeling that we don’t measure up — still we aspire. Which is why we find the disconnect between who we want to be and the media’s notion of how we’re supposed to look so darn confusing.

And so we wonder. Are these images a subtle way to keep us in the land or either/or?  To keep us in our place? Or is it all a big fat joke?

On us.

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And so today, as I was trolling for intelligent life out here in cyberspace, I came across a few quick hits that had me scratching my head when I tried to connect the dots.

First was a great piece in Newsweek by Jessica Bennett, reviewing a new book on sex by neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.  Their book, “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” bills itself as the “world’s largest experiment” on what turns people on.  Their data?  A billion anonymous web searches.  You can guess the sites.  Writes Bennett:

But while Ogas’s fellow doctoral students were busy writing computer code, he and his buddy Sai Gaddam simply couldn’t stop talking about sex. Specifically, how the brain decides what turns us on. “Nobody in our field had taken a shot at sexual desire—and most of our colleagues thought we were insane to do it,” Ogas says. “But the same neural principles that apply to our higher cognitive functions apply to sexual behavior, too.”

Bennett culled a few fun stats from the book and here’s the one that got me thinking:  Men are much more likely to ogle overweight – than underweight — women.  By a ratio of three to one.

Hmmm, right?   And then I came across this:  A piece on Gawker that linked to a Today show segment on dress size confusion that included an interview with More editor Lesley Jane Seymour, who said that fashion editors sometimes have to cut the sizes out of clothes before fashion shoots to protect the fragile egos of celebrities.

And finally, we would be remiss without a mention of our newest princess-to-be, yes?  Kate has been the subject of many a link, not the least of which are those that discuss her weight.  Or lack of same.  And today I found a discussion on the Harvard Health Letter that discussed the theories that have bounced around to explain why, at 5 foot 10, Kate is suddenly down to 120 lbs.  Among them: stress, the controversial Dukan diet (think Atkins plus oat bran) — or what some have termed brideorexia.  Let’s check:

Who doesn’t want to look good for their wedding, royal or common—and these days, looking good almost always means looking thinner. It’s been noted that in many couples’ lives, no event is as photographed as their wedding. (This may be true for Will and Kate, although unlike the rest of us, they’ve a coronation to look forward to.)

I don’t know about the UK, but on this side of the pond people started turning the desire of brides to look good and lose weight into businesses several years ago. Now there are bridal boot camps, bridal workouts, bridal diet plans, and reality shows based on brides-to-be slimming down to get ready for the big day. The term “brideorexia” was coined to denote the most extreme (and frequently unhealthy) of these wedding-related weight-loss efforts.

The post includes an interview with a researcher who actually studied brideorexia and found that the brides who took pre-wedding dieting to the extreme were the exception (25 percent) rather than the rule, but still, the overall message is this, whether or not you happen to be a princess in waiting:  To look good is to look thin.

Unless, of course, you ask men.  Interesting conundrum, is it not?  So trying my best to add it all up, I recalled one of Shannon’s posts from a while ago that started thus:

So, one night last week I was having a glass of wine with a friend–and wound up with a good belly laugh at mankind’s expense. I’ll spare you the exact details of how it came up, but at one point, said friend described to me a cartoon she’d recently seen. In one frame, a pretty woman of an average build looks into the mirror in horror; her mirror image is heavier, uglier, and facial-hairier than her real self. The next frame shows a balding, beer-bellied man smiling happily as he gazes upon his reflection, which features a chiseled physique, and a full head of hair. We got a good laugh out of that, but it was one of those laughs that wound down to an OhMyGod, it’s true! And then, a far less giggly: Is the joke on us?

And maybe, in fact, it is.  Except, of course, that the joke really isn’t funny.  While all this weight stuff may seem silly, it’s a good measure of how hard we are on ourselves.  And so, we have to wonder:  what would it take to tip the scales in the other direction?

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…For they shall be ripped apart.

And no one, it seems, is immune. Not even Tina Fey.

The very first piece of commentary I read about Tina Fey’s new book, Bossypants, which Barbara wrote about last week, was in Newsweek. And, written by Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, it was fairly critical. Check it:

Edging up to difficult truths and skipping away may make for sophisticated sitcoms, but it doesn’t make for satisfying memoir writing. The most successful autobiographies demand a certain amount of psychic heavy lifting, risk taking, and interrogation of one’s ideas; Fey will have none of it, which contributes to the nagging feeling that, despite her prodigious talents, she can be a little too clever by half.

And–you know what?–Holmes may be wrong; and she may, in fact, be right. But the specific talking points of her argument weren’t what interested me about her article. What Holmes’ piece got me thinking, more than anything, was this: Man, women sure are scrutinized. Call a woman a role model, and before the proverbial ink is dry, the backlash has begun. And she’ll get it the worst from other women.

Why are we so quick to pick each other apart?

It’s like the perpetual Us V. Them standoff on steroids. Or Botox. Versus A Powerful All-Natural Macrobiotic  Regime. And I think, as with the Us versus Themming, the urge to pick apart the women out there blazing the trails has much to do with choices, and the abundance of choices we now have, and how new this abundance is. We’ve been told we can do anything, we can have it all… And, hell, when you’re given every option and told how lucky you are to have them, it’s natural that we’re left a little bit unsure about the choices we make — and when we see another woman who’s doing things a little bit differently, well, picking her apart is certainly easier than acknowledging that we’re a little insecure about what it is we’re doing. And when it’s not the woman you see almost daily in line for your respective caffeine fixes but the woman you sort of idolize, you sort of adore… well, maybe we don’t want her to be a real person. Whether she’s had a fall from grace, or a wardrobe malfunction (or a wardrobe that prizes functionality over style), or is simply a little messy, a little conflicted, not as entirely forthcoming with every last bit of her soul as we’d like, we’re pretty quick to pounce on her for it, aren’t we? Could it be that we want too much from them? That we’re kinda desperate for guidance? Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert put it:

We don’t have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes.

We do. And we women are pretty darn tough on each other for those mistakes — so who on earth would want to put her whole self out there to be judged? As Holmes herself wrote:

Fey is in the unique and enviable position to say something important and definitive: about being a woman, about boys’ clubs, about contemporary feminism and female representations in pop culture. (I can go on.) If a woman with Fey’s measure of success and cultural influence won’t give us the straight dope, who will? Part of me suspects that this is unfair to expect of her, that because of her prominence (and the relative paucity of other females at her level) Fey has become the go-to girl to represent and illuminate the hopes, fears, and dreams of generations of women. I imagine that she’s aware of this, and finds it both flattering and annoying. I imagine she wishes she could do better. Maybe next time.

Not sure I love the ending. But what I’d like to imagine is this: maybe we can all do better. Maybe, by acknowledging that we’re all flying a little bit blind here, that we’re all struggling with the decisions that combine to determine How We’re Living Our Lives, we  might get on board with the idea that we all could use some support. Maybe then we’d feel a little freer to hang ourselves out there, a little safer in letting our freak flags fly. And maybe, the more of us who do, the more of us who will. And maybe, once that happens, we’ll be more inclined to be ourselves, and to support every other woman out there doing the tough work of being herself.

As Fey’s TV alter-ego might say, I want to go to there.

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Thanks for the offer.  But let’s just have some chocolate cake and call it a day.

More about this cake business later, but first, there’s this:  Newsweek is the latest to hop aboard the streetcar named Can’t Decide — our own trek for the past two years — with its current cover story on the “twitterization” of our culture, or why we can’t think.

The story references research by Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, who found that information overload mucks with our ability to make decisions — and control our emotions:

“With too much information, ” says Dimoka, “people’s decisions make less and less sense.”

So much for the ideal of making well-informed decisions. For earlier generations, that meant simply the due diligence of looking things up in a reference book. Today, with Twitter and Facebook and countless apps fed into our smart phones, the flow of facts and opinion never stops. That can be a good thing, as when information empowers workers and consumers, not to mention whistle-blowers and revolutionaries. You can find out a used car’s accident history, a doctor’s malpractice record, a restaurant’s health-inspection results. Yet research like Dimoka’s is showing that a surfeit of information is changing the way we think, not always for the better. Maybe you consulted scores of travel websites to pick a vacation spot—only to be so overwhelmed with information that you opted for a staycation. Maybe you were this close to choosing a college, when suddenly older friends swamped your inbox with all the reasons to go somewhere else—which made you completely forget why you’d chosen the other school. Maybe you had the Date From Hell after being so inundated with information on “matches” that you chose at random. If so, then you are a victim of info-paralysis.

We devoted a whole chapter in our book to the science of decision making (and several posts, like this one, from over a year ago)  Like Newsweek, we found that too many options sends the brain into overdrive, at which point it often says screw it and just goes off to bed.  Also like Newsweek, we found that the constant beep and buzz of the electronica that has become a part of our every waking moment just adds to the chaos, making it close to impossible for us to make a decision — or be happy with it when we do.

A lot revolves around a pivotal 1950’s study, cleverly titled “Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”, that found that your rational brain can only hold about seven different things in working memory at any one time.  More than that, and your head starts spinning.  Ms. Rational Brain is likely to say “I quit” — and cede control to the emotional brain.

If you’re thinking this can’t end well, you’d be right.  This is where the chocolate cake comes in.

Several decades after that pivotal study, a Stanford marketing professor named Baba Shiv tested the theory with a bunch of hungry college students.  He had one group memorize two-digits — and the other group, seven.  Afterward, they were offered their choice of reward — fruit salad or gooey chocolate cake — and guess what happened?  The crew that was overloaded with info overwhelmingly chose cake.  The two-digit folks?  Fruit salad, please.

You can guess which group might have had some regrets a little later.  Which brings us to our point.  When you are overloaded with information — or options — decision making becomes a labyrinth of twists and turns that rarely has a happy ending.  We second-guess.  We regret. We start jonesing for the greener grass.   Add the constant distractions of Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and [insert Next Big Thing here] and it’s no wonder we can’t decide what to have for dinner, much less what to do with our lives.

All of which is that much worse for women when it comes to what-do-I-do-now decisions.  Why?  Generational, sister.  Suddenly we’re faced with more options than our mothers or grandmothers ever thought possible, and we’re running the road without a map.  Or role models, either.  We can be doctors.  We can be lawyers.  We can run off to join the circus.  We can stay home to raise  kids.  We can stay home to write books.  We can do anything.  We can do everything.  So how do we choose? Especially when, as Shannon wrote on Tuesday, we live on a steady diet of news feeds, tweets and other app-philia from the land of perfect, all of which seem to proclaim:  Look at me!  I’ve gotten it right.  Ahem, and you?

And me?  Sigh.   There’s more about the science of decision making in the Newsweek piece, and lots more than that in Chapter 5 of our book.  And in fact, I could add quite a bit more to this post.   But you know what?  There’s chocolate cake in the office down the hall, and I’m headed that way.   And you don’t have to tell me:  You want some too.

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This week’s Newsweek poses the interesting question: Is your booty in your beauty? That is to say, do pretty people make more money (short answer: yes), and if so, should women, to quote Ru Paul, work it at work?

An interesting debate, to be sure. Not least given feminism’s real–and imagined–history of trashing (and burning–that’d be the imagined part) their high heels, girdles, and bras in the name of freedom from a sexist culture. In one of the articles, “She Stoops to Conquer,” Jessica Bennett wonders if “real feminists use their looks to get ahead,” and launches the piece with a reference to the so-called “Bo-Tax”–an addition to the health care bill which would have (if passed, which it wasn’t) levied a tax on “injectables” and other elective cosmetic procedures, and the counterintuitive resistance to the Bo-Tax from no less than Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, who, by way of explanation for her position, said:

“[Women] have to find work… and the fact is, we live in a society that punishes women for getting older.”

You might expect the National Organization for Women to have better things to do. You might expect them to look down upon things like injecting one’s face with a known toxin. But no. And you know, she has a point. Here’s a bit from Bennett:

Women may have surpassed men as the majority of American workers, but they’re no less slaves to the beauty standards of the day than they were during the Mad Men era. So while feminists of the past may have blasted plastic surgery as shallow, today even Gloria Steinem has admitted to an eye lift. Of course, buying into the belief that we must keep up with the Joneses brings with it a double bind: at work, women can be too attractive, and whether it’s by natural or artificial means, studies show they are faced with resentment, envy, often viewed as less intelligent or vain. In a corporate hierarchy still largely dominated by men, this is all the more exaggerated: women who reject the idea that they must plump and pull to get ahead resent the women who accept it; those women then resent those who don’t need surgical enhancement. And many women who indeed benefit from looking good face their own cycle of self-doubt: Did I really deserve that raise/promotion/recognition, or did he just like the way my legs look in that skirt? Is that what the rest of the office assumes? It’s insecurity at its worst, but it’s surely not for nothing: as one male Newsweek reader told my female colleagues and me, after reading our story on sexism: “No matter how much I respect my female co-workers, I eventually think about putting my hands on their chest.”

It’s hard to eradicate sexism; but in the face of it, maybe there really is a case to be made for using what we’ve got. That’s not to say we should tear off our tops in the name of “empowerment,” or bat our eyelashes at every middle-aged male manager who hovers over our cubicle… But making an effort to look good, because we know it helps us out professionally, and, well, maintaining that look, shouldn’t necessarily be shunned, nor should we be plagued by personal guilt. This is a conscious decision–and in an age where looks matter more than ever, it can be an economic one. Look at it this way: if you’re doing your job, who cares if your boss wants to promote you because he thinks you’re pretty? So what if you invest in a round of Botox because you believe–like 13 percent of women, and 10 percent of men–that it will help you in the long run?

Well, sure, so what? If you got it, flaunt it (and if you don’t anymore, umm, fill it?)–we are, after all, still paid only 77 cents to the man’s dollar, and there’s fewer of us at the tops of the ranks, so we might as well. By any means necessary, right? After all, a pretty woman earns a reported 4% more–and gets more attention from her boss–than her Ugly Betty counterpart. And then, there’s this: I think it’s safe to say that many of us prefer to look well-rested and perky than like we’ve been run over by a truck, so while the numbers show that pretty people do get ahead, getting ahead is likely not our only motivation. If we’re honest, I’m sure we’d all confess that a certain measure of our desire to look our best has to do as much with turning heads–not least the one who’s looking back at us from the mirror. And hey, what’s the matter with a little vanity? More power to us! But the one thing I do wonder about is this: Do you think your male coworkers ever worry about this stuff?


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The strangest thing popped into my inbox the other day: a BCBG ad for this season’s statement jewelry. Front and center were a couple of iterations of what you see on your left: a knuckle ring. I kid you not.

Look closely and you’ll find that the “ring” is actually two of them linking your fingers together on the inside, with a bejeweled bar across the top of two fingers on the outside. It appears to be an ironic riff on the brass knuckles of gangster movie fame.

If your education in 1930’s films has been neglected, brass knuckles were four linked metal rings with a bar of concealed weight that, when the bad guy made a fist, gave him a sneaky and powerful punch.

Back to BCBG, couple the knuckle rings with the must-have shoes of the season – platform gladiator sandals – and you have a look that screams power. I’m going somewhere with this, but it probably isn’t where you think. But before we move on, let me just say that I have never been one to judge a feminist for her fashion. In fact, I applaud feminists who aren’t afraid to wear pink (when it’s the new black), who don’t shy away from lipstick, who dress to please themselves, whether it’s sensible shoes or sexy stilettos, khaki pants or trendy little pencil skirts. Either/or is in itself is a sign of power: What we wear is more than just utility.

In fact, I remember back when I was a new mom, with a pretty sweet free-lancing gig that allowed me to work from home when Shannon was a baby. Every once in a while, when the workload built up, my boss would go sideways, call me up and rant that either I did a full-on nine-to-five in the office everyday or the arrangement was kaput. At which point, I would call the babysitter and speed to the office, where I always managed to talk myself back into working from home. At such meetings, I always wore the same pair of don’t-mess-with-me high heeled boots.

I am the first to say that my boss never noticed my boots. They meant nothing to him. But they meant a lot to me. On those days, they gave me a sense of power (and, I confess, height) which for some reason gave me the juice to speak up.

Which brings us back to the knuckle rings and all the other overt Wonder Woman fashion statements: are they signs of power for women who have seized it – or props for women who still feel they have none? Here comes my point.

For too long women have been told they have no voice, that they’ve been silenced by the patriarchy. Which was one hell of a wake-up call and rallying cry back in the early days of the women’s movement. And maybe it’s still true to a certain extent. But what I wonder is if one of the unintended consequences of the rhetoric is that many women have come to believe it — and have silenced themselves, convinced that no one will listen.

Or feel that that their only source of power is in trappings like knuckle rings.

Which was why I was so proud of Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball, the young Newsweek women who were willing to bite the hand that feeds them in the blistering piece entitled “Are We There Yet?” (Answer: No) that Shannon wrote about on Tuesday. It wasn’t only what they wrote that so impressed me, but the fact that they had the guts to write it. That, to quote my favorite VP, is a big, fucking deal.

What’s also a pretty big deal is the fact that Newsweek ran with the story. It’s front and center and last I heard, Bennett, Ellison and Ball are still employed.

I see two lessons here. First, we’ve got a long way to go before the work of the women’s movement is done. But second is the subtext: we do indeed have a voice. We just have to use it.

And we probably don’t need knuckle rings to do so. Unless, of course, we think they’re cool.

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Are We There Yet? asks a recent Newsweek headline, with the kind of slug that leaves you with a distinctive sense of dread:

In 1976, 46 women filed a landmark gender-discrimination case. Their employer was NEWSWEEK. Forty years later, their contemporary counterparts question how much has actually changed.

It’s a great piece, as it shows how awfully far we have come (those women were flat-out told in their interviews that women could never get to the top–or even the middle–and spent their days at the veritable newsrag fetching coffee, sorting mail, and doing–and handing over–the reporting that a male writer would use in the stories that ultimately would bear his byline), as well as… well, how far we haven’t come. (For starters: in 1970 25 percent of Newsweek‘s editorial masthead was female; today that number is only 39 percent. Ahem, it’s FORTY YEARS LATER, PEOPLE. Last year, men wrote all but six of Newsweek‘s 49 cover stories, which is apparently par for the course: taking major magazines as a whole, there’s one female byline for every SEVEN male.) For the young women–new to the work force–who wrote this piece, the real world offered up quite a shock:

Forty years after NEWSWEEK’s women rose up, there’s no denying our cohort of young women is unlike even the half-generation before us. We are post-Title IX women, taught that the fight for equality was history; that we could do, or be, anything. The three of us were valedictorians and state-champion athletes; we got scholarships and were the first to raise our hands in class. As young professionals, we cheered the third female Supreme Court justice, and, nearly, the first female president. We’ve watched as women became the majority of American workers, prompting a Maria Shriver-backed survey on gender, released late last year, to proclaim that ‘the battle of the sexes is over.’

Can you sense the but coming? Good reader. Here it be:

The problem is, for women like us, the victory dance feels premature. Youthful impatience? Maybe. But consider this: U.S. Department of Education data show that a year out of school, despite having earned higher college GPAs in every subject, young women will take home, on average across all professions, just 80 percent of what their male colleagues do… Motherhood has long been the explanation for the persistent pay gap, yet a decade out of college, full-time working women who haven’t had children still make 77 cents on the male dollar. As women increasingly become the breadwinners in this recession, bringing home 23 percent less bacon hurts families more deeply than ever before.

I know, that’s nothing new. You’ve certainly read about it here once or twice. But the point worth thinking about is what they get at here:

In countless small ways, each of us has felt frustrated over the years, as if something was amiss. But as products of a system in which we learned that the fight for equality had been won, we didn’t identify those feelings as gender-related. It seemed like a cop-out, a weakness, to suggest that the problem was anybody’s fault but our own.

Convenient, no? Tell everyone the problem’s been solved already, and maybe it’ll go away. Move along, nothing to see here… Nothing, of course, but those inequalities listed above. Or the ones below:

  • A Girl Scouts study found that young women avoid leadership roles for fear they’ll be labeled ‘bossy';
  • women are four times less likely than men to negotiate a starting salary…
  • which is probably for the best, as a Harvard study found that women who demand more money are perceived as “less nice” (=less likely to be hired).

As infuriating as all of that may be — and, duh, it is — even more so is the fact that no one seems to be pissed off about it. And, I’d venture to say, there are even some among us who read those stats, who are familiar with the surveys and the survey results, and yet, somehow, can’t quite bring ourselves to believe it.

Susan Douglas would diagnose that as a classic case of “Enlightened Sexism,” and her new book on the subject makes a compelling case that, because of all the advances that we have made — and because of a lopsided accentuating of the positives (so sugar and spiced and everything niced are we!), the stereotypes, inequities, and biases that would have once been called sexist go unnoticed. Turn on the TV, she says: there are women doctors, women lawyers, women detectives and DAs and Hillary Clinton and Oprah to show you: See? We have come a long way, baby! But all that rose-colored imagery doesn’t exactly reflect reality. For instance, here’s something you might not have realized:

The four most common female professions today are: secretary, registered nurse, teacher, and cashier–low-paying, “pink collar” jobs that employ 43 percent of all women. Swap “domestic help” for nurse, and you’d be looking at the top female jobs from 1960, back when want ads were segregated by gender.

It’s all rather depressing, but, at the same time, not: those ladies at Newsweek? They’re putting it out there, putting themselves out there, calling it like they see it — like they live it. (And maybe even calling themselves Feminists, too.) And what they’re putting out there, what they’re calling, seeing, and living, is this: the job’s not done yet. Maybe they’ll be some of tomorrow’s leaders–any movement that wants to keep moving needs regular shots of fresh blood. And, shhhh: there’s more of us out there. And you know, even the leaders of the old-guard see cause for hope: in a piece just published yesterday, written by none other than The Female Eunuch author Germaine Greer, Greer begins, with characteristic sarcasm, by declaring feminism a failure (and The Female Eunuch not her best work). Eunuchs aside, she ends with a potent call to arms:

The media tend to think that the fantasies they peddle are realer than real. But in the real world, women have changed; bit by bit, they are growing stronger and braver, ready to begin the actual feminist revolution. The feminist revolution hasn’t failed, you see. It has only just begun.

And if that’s the case, there’s only one thing left to say: Bring it.

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You can just imagine my glee when I flipped through this week’s Newsweek to find an essay headlined “Who You Callin’ A Lady?. The deck read “The soft bigotry of high expectations.”

Holy jumpin’ Undecided, Batman! Isn’t this what we’ve been talking about in this space for months?

Enter the buzzkill. I realized that the essay, written by Kathleen Deveny, was just one more knee-jerk apologia for University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert’s reprehensible behavior in a game against BYU.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last month, you know that Lambert was suspended from her team for what might generously be called dirty playing (check the ESPN video below): She tripped players. She threw punches. She took players out with no ball in sight. Ugliest of all, she threw an opponent to the ground by yanking her by the ponytail and snapping her head back.

Let me back up. Both my daughters played soccer, at various levels. They attended a high school where women’s soccer was a feeder for top level university programs across the country. For years, members of the women’s soccer team at the university where I teach have made their way onto the rosters of the national team and the Olympic team. I’ve never played in a soccer game, but I’ve watched probably hundreds of them: Lambert goes way beyond dirty. Don’t want to take my word for it? Listen to former Olympian Julie Foudy.

Which is why I am so dismayed to see Lambert thrown up as a feminist icon, with her behavior a symbol of how society’s high expectations for women hold them back. The issue is real, but when you use Lambert as the poster girl, well, suddenly, the argument starts to disintegrate.

In fairness, Deveny makes some good points. When she gets past comparing Lambert’s suspension — and the media storm that surrounded it — to the reinstatement of football player Michael Vick, she gets onto less shaky ground:

The difference is that we expect bad behavior from men—on the field and off. (In some ways, men justify our low opinion of them: they are 10 times more likely to murder, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.) But we expect better from women. We didn’t fight this hard to be involved in organized sports just so we could act like a bunch of dumb jocks, right? We want women to be honest, compassionate, and nice—you know, like our moms.

So what’s the harm in expecting the fairer sex to play fairer? It’s what George W. Bush might call the soft bigotry of high expectations. If we insist on holding women and girls to higher standards than men, we set them up to disappoint us. It makes me worry about my 9-year-old daughter, and not because I hope she will someday pull hair with the best of them. I think she is sometimes held to stricter behavior standards than her boys-will-be-boys classmates. Those higher expectations follow us onto the job, where women are allegedly not only better behaved and more honest but cheaper—you only have to pay us 80 cents on the dollar! So why aren’t we represented at the highest levels of business? One problem is that women aren’t supposed to be aggressive or self-promoting—that’s nasty male behavior—even though it’s often rewarded. And yet if professional women are too nice and cuddly, they don’t seem decisive or tough enough to be leaders. “The ‘women are wonderful’ effect does have a terrible downside,” says Alice H. Eagly, a psychology professor and coauthor of Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders. “If you’re too nice, you’re seen as not really appropriate for high-level positions.”

Good points. (Except that bit about Mom. Since when is Mom a synonym for soft?) But maybe we need to start thinking beyond her message. If it is true that women are held to different, and higher standards, maybe it’s not the expectations that do us in, but rather the institutional structures that support them. Playing like the boys for the past several decades really hasn’t gotten us that far. Could it be that what needs to be changed are the structures — not the women?

A few months ago, in a post on the differences between men and women and how we need to embrace them, Shannon quoted a speech by Omega Women’s Institute founder, Elizabeth Lesser:

We’ve had centuries of power and leadership where men have been at the helm. There’s some real serious gaps in representation in the world. And also the world’s in trouble. What would happen if women became empowered and could lead from their core basic values? Not just let’s put women into a structure that is about up-down power, like I have power over you. But what if women could actually influence the way power was wielded in the world, from a core feminine place. … The conversation we need to have now is no longer about women assuming positions of leadership within the existing power structure, it’s about the power structures themselves, it’s about how to go about assuming power, how to change the structures.

Which is why this whole l’affaire Lambert has me so dismayed. It’s not that she was castigated for playing like the boys — it’s that she was playing like the very worst of them.

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