Biological Problems

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I have continued to think about the role of women in politics and other positions of power.

What is it that continues to be so scary about assertive, intelligent, ambitious women?

Why does Hillary have to have a "tearful breakdown". And honestly - was that really a "tearful breakdown"? Has she not been criticized, again and again, for appearing to have no emotions?

When I was the director of the child care, I was frequently told by my (male) supervisor that I needed to be "warmer". More "nurturing". The women that I supervised found me a bit cold and intellectual. He even told me, at one point, that he was glad I was pregnant because it would "soften my image" with the teaching staff.

In the performance review after I had my daughter, he noted that my change in status had made me "more human" in the eyes of the staff.

At the same time, I was being told that I needed to keep a professional distance from the staff. I needed to be a leader - and leaders are assertive and decisive. They make the tough decisions and do not show any emotion about making those decisions. They lay off teachers and act as if it isn't any big deal. Business is business.

Women like that? Aggressive and bitchy. Cold. Condescending. Masculine. Too big for their britches.

Let's add in a few more things we've been called, shall we?

1. Dyke.

Of course. A woman who doesn't roll over as soon as any kind of confrontation with a man occurs is surely a dyke. What else could account for their inability to worship the innate superiority of the penis?

2. Slut/Whore

While this gem is generally used by other women to denigrate the renegade female, males have also been known to use this moniker. Any female in a position of power must have fucked SOMEBODY to get there, right?

3. Unattractive

This wide ranging descriptor holds lots of others within it's realm. Fat, ugly, funny looking, exotic - anything which falls out of the limits of conventional beauty can be lumped into this category. The irony is that if you appear TOO attractive than you must be a Slut/Whore - not attractive enough? Dyke.

4. Cold/Emotional

A woman who seeks any kind of external power or responsibility can't be normal. I mean she is either an unfeeling bitch, or a crazy woman whose uterus is going to erupt into crazy crying hormones at the most inopportune times. Usually when she has to make an important decision or choice. Because as we all know Tears=Crazy. Tears=Mentally Unbalanced. Tears=Inability to think clearly.

As a woman, Hillary has had to deal with all of these contradictory messages IN ADDITION to her job performance. She has to face these spoken and unspoken judgments in a way that is absent from the assessment of the male candidates. If she is exhausted, it isn't because campaigning is grueling. It's because she is a woman and they are, after all, the weaker sex. Newt Gingrich's infamous quote about why women shouldn't go to war still stands: "If combat means living in a ditch, females have biological problems staying in a ditch for thirty days because they get infections and they don't have upper body strength".

If she is upset, it is because she is a woman - and you know how they can get. The ones who are not menopausal get all hormonal and irrational. The ones who are post menopausal - they can get all hormonal and irrational.

If she is President, won't she just ask her husband HIS opinion? After all, he would know more than she would, and we all know how easily wives are influenced by their husbands. We all do exactly what they say - everyone knows that.

I may not love Hillary's every position. I may take issue with some of her decisions and choices as a politician. However, I intimately know the razor's edge she walks. My hope, regardless of the outcome of this primary season, is that we find a way to start talking again about why women continue to be subjected to this insane double standard. As the generation of women who benefited from the wave of 1960's feminism, why are our daughters and their friends ashamed to be called feminists? Where did we get hijacked along the way? How do we communicate the ground still left to cover to these young women who we have falsely sold the idea that they can do anything?

8 Baleful Regards:

Gina said...

I have really enjoyed these posts, because you have managed to say everything that I think about the issue, but only without all the cussing and stuttering and sounding dumb.

Mignon said...

Anonymous had a good comment, and your response was good in the last post. I would argue however, from this white girl living in redneck-land, that Clinton does have a tougher hurdle than Obama in this race. But only because my racist in-laws like to bash the woman more than the black man. She's an easier and safer target all the way around. You can go to any convenient store in Billings and find a nutcracker shaped like Clinton, but I doubt you'd find an Obama lawn jockey as a form of acceptable bigoted humor in any chain store in the nation.

I don't think that means sexism is a stronger force than racism, it's just more overt and unrecognized in this presidential primary.

Anonymous-from-the-last-post: please come back and comment more. We need more of your perspective. Or I do, at least.

Mignon said...

The reason it's hard to claim to be a feminist is comment threads like this one:

I call myself a feminist, but really only to myself. To say it out loud suggests something a lot more militant, which is unfair to me and to history.

Anonymous said...

Hi mignon. It's anon from the previous post. I did reply over there, so please check it out when you get a chance. Anyway, I hear what you're saying about the sexism being more overt in this election than the racism. I just don't agree that that necessarily translates into Clinton having an easier time. Just because people are more willing to publicly voice their sexism than their racism doesn't mean that sexism is more pervasive or more powerful. And let’s not forget about Xenophobia and religious discrimination. If I hear one more Obama-Osama joke I’m going to scream.

But putting that aside, I just find it frustrating that people feel the need to make these comparisons at all. Why can't we talk about the sexism that Clinton is battling in this campaign, without bringing Obama or race into it at all? Why can't you say, "Wow, this nation's sexist double standards for professional women have become such a powerful undercurrent in the election," without adding, "And by the way, sexism is more politically damaging than racism...that Obama has it so easy in comparison."?

That's the part that I have a problem with. The desire to establish some kind of hierarchy of oppression (and then to come out on top). It's why I also have a hard time calling myself a feminist out loud. Not really because it sounds too militant, but because it suggests that I'm willing to sublimate my blackness in order to fully realize my womanhood. It shouldn’t have to be an either-or, and we shouldn’t try to make it into a competition.

I hope that makes sense. Oh, and since it's stupid to contribute this much and stay anonymous, my name is Ayana.

Mignon said...

Ayana, I agree the competition of who is subjugated more is ridiculous in day-to-day living, but these two are in battle right now, so every nuance of Who Has It Tougher does seem relevant. Who is fundraising better, who has more experience, who has more skeletons, who suffers bigotry more. Of course all this is totally irrelevant to who makes a better president, but completely relevant to people who shouldn't be allowed to vote.

"[I]t suggests that I'm willing to sublimate my blackness in order to fully realize my womanhood." That's the problem I have too. Like I can't be a stay-at-home mom and be a feminist. I can't have a husband who hunts and fishes and doesn't know the details of my menstrual cycle and be a feminist. I can't suggest that computer science is a field dominated by men partially because of their biological tendencies to excel in hard sciences (an argument I'm in right now on another web site) and still be a feminist. You have to take a hard line against the dominant white patriarchy or nothing.

As someone said in the last comment thread "Do you ever plan to vote? Would you prefer the right to divorce a husband who abused you or cheated on you? Do you like the idea of being able to own property in your own name? Do you think that you should be paid just as much as a man for doing the same work, with the same level of experience and education?" should be enough, but it's just not.

Millie Rossman Kidd said...

Anon, I think that's a great point, and much akin to my overall feeling--we should not even be going there, to sex and race at all in discussing the candidates.

It's hard--for everyone--not to. It's historical.

For me it's hard b/c as much as hate to admit it
b/c in theory I feel it should not matter, I really want the chance to be able to vote for a woman. I'm not saying this would make me vote for any woman, like I would never vote for some Thatcher clone. But with Hilary, even though she's done some things I don't like, she's brilliant, she's a hard worker, and I think it can't be undervalued that in some ways she has a lot of good experience. Not only as a senator, but as a First Lady. I think one could argue she has almost as much exp as an incumbent VP.

Jaelithe said...

Hehe Mignon, I'm the one who said that bit about being a feminist earlier, and I am ALSO a SAHM. One who happens to have been raised herself by a working mother who taught Women's Studies courses, and was a local chapter leader for NOW.

It's unfortunate that some hardline feminists don't want people like you and me in the tent. But by gum, I'll stand in the feminism tent anyway, and if someone tries to drag me out by my apron strings, I will kick them with my three inch heels.

Declaring my support for women's rights is too important to me to let extremists on EITHER side bully me out of it.

I am really angry about the way Hillary's "crying" incident has been treated by the press too, Dawn, and I plan to mention it in an upcoming post in which I shall generally deride both the political process and the press.

Tempered Woman said...

You also forgot the innate need we have to put up with stupid jokes about our gender so we don't get labeled as humorless beyotches. Admit it- if a woman says that the Hillary nutcracker is tasteless she's labeled humorless.
What I don't understand is how the whole Hillary sexism debate has acually been bent to suddenly be about poor Edwards not a viable candidate because it isn't historical enough (i.e. first female or black president Is viable). If you caught the debate last night. We just skip over the whole sexism thing and go right back to feeling bad about poor white men who are always being bashed. Whatever.
And this is coming from a feminist Republican for the record (who still enjoys reading your blog, for the record).

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