on balls and lack thereof

I’m not one to spend a lot of time agonizing about the gender politics of being a woman in a position of authority. Sure, I’m aware that certain things I do will come across to some people as “bitchy” when a man doing or saying the same things would come across as assertive. Oh well. If people want to think I’m a bitch, fine. I’m not bothered by it, and I tend to think that you can’t be too troubled by it if you want to be effective. After all, if women (or men) don’t know how to handle occasional stupidity, they’re not going to get much done in the world.

(Speaking of which, I was baffled earlier this year by all the hand-wringing over those Hillary Clinton nutcrackers. If there were an Ask a Manager nutcracker, I would buy a bunch up and give them as gifts.)

But I will tell you this: The selection of Sarah Palin, the reaction to Sarah Palin, and Sarah Palin herself are humiliating to professional women, especially those of us who thought we could move beyond gender in the workplace.

I am sorry, because I know you don’t come here to read about politics (and I already indulged myself earlier in the year when I wrote about Barack Obama seeming like a good manager, whereas Hillary Clinton … didn’t). But I can think of little that has made me feel condescended to on the basis of my gender like this has.

Apparently, large swaths of the country find it acceptable, even charming, to wink and flirt in the equivalent of a job interview for a position of life-and-death importance. And most politicians and commentators, it turns out, think we’re supposed to treat female candidates with some degree of delicacy (such as all the advice to Biden not to take Palin on directly in the debate). And large segments of the public are apparently willing to accept that male candidates for office will be attacked on every discoverable point of vulnerability, as well as plenty that don’t actually exist, but it’s okay to cry sexism when it happens to a woman.

No matter what your politics, how is this not a humiliation to every woman who thought she could get beyond gender?

I want to be hit as hard as my opponent would hit a man. I want to be judged on something more relevant than feminine charm (assuming I’m not on a date). I want to see if I can win it on my merits, and if I can’t, I don’t want the job just because you think you’d like to hire a woman.

I thought that had become the social contract, to a large extent. But we’ve now seen in a pretty devastating way that it’s not.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Lisa*

    Love the post title and the post I absolutely had to click through! I really, actually do click through every time you post but I did this without delay :)

  2. Inside the Philosophy Factory*

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

    The treatment of Palin, from the beginning, hasn’t focused enough on her actual qualifications (or lack of them), her actual positions and her actual ability to govern should McCain become unable to do so.

    And, when I say ‘from the beginning’ I mean from her selection as the VP candidate. If Todd Palin had been the govenor of Alaska, he’d never have been nominated.

    Instead, McCain chose her because she’d be easily “positioned” i.e. “manipulated” into the ‘flirt your way to the VP’ slot. Her opponent in the last election pretty much said that is what won her the position.,.. so McCain thought he could use that as well.

    All in all — disgusting — which is just another reason I have to vote for Obama.

  3. Anonymous*

    Good post. I would say it’s not a topic you like to get into for good reason: it’s a touchy subject.

    While it is naive to think that gender doesn’t matter at all in specific instances, it really doesn’t “matter” in the grand scheme of things. I mean reasonable employees will respect you if you’re good and won’t when you’re not good, while whiner employees will hate you no matter what.

    Also every woman in the world wants “their man” to walk the tight rope of “sensative but not a wuss”, “attentive but not smothering”, “x but not y”…if that sounds like something a bitter/dumped guy would say, all I can say is that women managers sound the same way when they mope about walking the OMG impossible tight rope of “tough but not a bitch”. And if you got to be in a position of authority in the first place, there’s probably not a conspiracy out there holding you back.

  4. Totally Consumed*

    Not many months ago, my sister told us, her family, that she is a transgender male (FTM).

    Before the fateful day that she shared that little tidbit of news with the family, I would have agreed with you whole-heartedly. But with all of the emotions and reflection I’ve gone through over the last few months, I realize how truly difficult it is to disssocaite gender from any relationship equation.

    Whether it be a spouse, a co-worker, or a Vice-President, once I know someone’s gender, I’m now more conscious than ever of how that knowledge is a (be it small) very real part of our every interaction.

    Changing something so deeply integral to our identity is not easy … and may very well be impossible.

  5. Anonymous*

    A few weeks ago, a media commentator offered his opinion that the real loser of the VP debate was mainstream American journalism for touting Palin’s “better-than-expected” performance. If we–and the journos and media conglomerates that report the news–think that her performance was swell, then that reflects our exceptionally low expectations.

    Man or woman, do we really want to elect a VP whose successes and failures are strictly based on low expectations?

    If any of you are interested in a good read, I recommend this week’s New Yorker cover story, “Why McCain Chose Palin.” Basically, she wink-winked her way to the nomination by impressing a slew of political pundits on their travels to Alaska; they thought she was pretty and charming, a real maverick of reform. And McCain was pressured into selecting her, which might explain why they’re rarely seen in the same company.

    Hmmm… Pretty + Charming = Republican Maverick.

    Not in my world!

  6. HR Godess*

    I’m standing and applauding you. I’ve been thinking/feeling the same way. It’s ridiculous what’s happening and you summed it up perfectly. Thank you!

  7. Anonymous*

    OK. So I guess I haven’t been a real regular reader as you posted this more than two weeks ago and the election is over. But I have to say AMEN to that. I told the other managers on our team (all males) how I offended I was that the Republican party chose her. I don’t have a problem with Clinton rising to the top of the Democratic party on her own merits, but to make a VP choice just BECAUSE she is a woman and expect all of us to vote for her based only on that criteria was maddening to me. I hope we all learned a lesson from this.

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