Posts Tagged ‘gender


What Are The Barriers That Keep Women From the Presidency?

In a recent  Time magazine cover story, Hillary Clinton is credited for her “smart power.”  The author appeared on CNN with anchor Carol Costello, who noted that “many people would still like to see Hillary Clinton run for president.”  Specifically, Clinton is lauded for her ability to embrace the new communication methods for international relations while still mastering the traditional communication methods of diplomacy.  It is this same rhetorical elasticity that made her such a compelling presidential candidate, though as Massimo Calabresi the article’s author states, her “closest aides” say she is not interested in staying in public service.  Recent poll numbers show Hillary Clinton could save the democratic party in the 2012 race.     Where was the media attention to Clinton’s  “smart power” in 2008 when she was running for president? 

What this new article on Hillary Clinton shows is that women in high positions of power and those  aspiring to the presidency must possess considerable rhetorical finesse, and even when they do, the media may pay little attention.  As a presidential candidate  women candidates’  phrases will be scanned for the words that suggest high seriousness in a world with major economic and international problems. Rick Perry’s silly gesticulations or Herman Cain’s flip-flopping statements about sexual harassment make it to The Daily Show routines or a run on the major news networks, but they won’t disqualify them from the race.  Women candidates who don’t exhibit brainpower, rhetorical sensitivity and likability simultaneously and consistently will be discounted as not ready for prime time.  There is less room for  mis-steps for women seeking the White House. 

This is one of several  imbalances between male and female candidates found in a forthcoming book I’ve co-authored with Theodore F. Sheckels and Diana B. Carlin on women and the US presidency:  Gender and the American Presidency:  Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced (Lexington Books, 2012). 

Until there are more women running for president who overcome the considerable, yet often ridiculous barriers, the US presidency will remain an all-male affair.


Hardcover: 978-0-7391-6678-9, $85.00Paperback: 978-0-7391-6679-6, $36.99
324 pages, Lexington Books, 2012 by Sheckels, Gutgold and Carlin


Here’s To Men and Women Behaving Well

When I read a call for papers about female television pundits for the upcoming National Communication Association (NCA) Convention, I did what a usually do:  respond with great enthusiasm and ask to participate.  No worries that I already have two book projects in the works, that I’d promise to coordinate a likely new degree program and that I committed to co-leading another field study to China in 2012.  I’m an academic and to earn my keep I need to keep learning and doing, right?  Besides, summer was coming and there would be plenty of chaise-lounge-chair-reading-days to come.  Well, today was (sort of) such a day and Washington Post syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker piqued my interest. 

 A conservative, she called for Sarah Palin to step down as vice-presidential candidate, and later teamed up with Eliot Spitzer, a.k.a. Client Number 9 for a T.V. show called “Parker/Spitzer: In the Arena.”  She clearly got my attention for her novel take on things, but neither the Sarah “step down” column or the “Regis/Kelly wanna-be” for the thinking set TV effort with Spitzer were not nearly as interesting to me as her 2008 book, Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care.  I had read NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s 2005 book Are Men Necessary?, and recognized that Parker’s book must be the conservative rebuttal.  Indeed, Parker says as much early in the book.

Parker cites her motherhood to three boys as ethos for her book’s thesis.  Similarly, being a mom to both a male and female I often wondered which gender has it easier.  Clearly Parker thinks girls have it easier in their transition to womanhood than boys have it in their transition to manhood.  And here’s why:  She notes the plethora of commercials and Internet ads that mock manhood (she cites erectile dysfunction medicine advertisements and the portrayal of the bubbling dad in sit-coms) to cultural cues that diminish maleness, to the rise of the wealthy single mother and the advent of “Mr. Mom.”   TIME’s recent cover story on “Chore Wars” underscores the workload tension between married couples.  And I remember former Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder lamenting to me in an interview in the late 1990s that she worried more about her son’s development than her daughter’s.  She reasoned that her daughter grew up seeing that a woman could be whatever she wanted to be, but it wasn’t as simple for her son.

In her book Parker argues that  subtly and not so subtly American culture is trying  to point the American male in another direction–away from traditional masculinity to something more closely resembling womanhood.  She writes, “What women seem to really want from men meanwhile is a better girlfriend–one with broad shoulders who can come to the rescue in a pinch, but who is otherwise equally at home with a Dustbuster and a weed whacker.”  But more seriously and more deeply as the book ends she points to the real danger for our children, whether male or female, the break up of the American family.  She writes:  “bringing men and women back together–inviting our sons and daughters to recognize each other as friends and future partners instead of hostile forces to be one-upped and conquered–may save us from self-destruction.”

    And she calls for “restoring the family–not by eternal means, but through mature recognition and voluntary self-sacrifice.”  That raising children in an environment where they feel safe and free from parental bickering and put-downs could have positive effects on them.  Nobody’s perfect, and maybe we should behave with a little grace.   What a concept.   Here’s to men and women behaving well.  I have a lot of research ahead on Parker, but for starters I thoroughly enjoyed (and quite agree with) Parker’s book.

I’m glad I took on this new project.  Good thing my husband and I split the chores.


Too Pretty and Too Smart To Be Successful?

When former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm was vying for re-election, a focus study found her appearance on her television commercial too pretty for the majority of voters to have confidence in her governing.  The solution?  Air her image in black and white to downplay her good looks. 

And when Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court, a consultant advised her to downplay her intelligence, so as not to make the inquisitive senators seem too dim by comparison.  Her solution?  Rely on her quick wit.  Evidence of her funny bone was front and center at her hearings a year ago.  Here are a few memorable examples:

When Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter  asked Kagan about her views on cameras in the courtroom, he was completely upstaged by her humor.    In his slow and somber speech Specter asked:  “Well…you’ve already said you’re in favor of televising the court, but wouldn’t televising the court and information as to what the court does have an impact on the values which are reflected in the American people?”

Kagan began seriously, noting her intent to confer with the other justices on their views, and for the “greater understanding of the court” that televising would offer, and when Specter droned on about the topic longer, Kagan retorted to uproarious laughter: “It means I’d have to get my hair done more often, Senator Specter.”  

At another lighthearted moment, Senator Dianne Fienstein oddly suggested that she and Kagan have “a little heart-to-heart,” with  Kagan gaining eye contact with Feinstein and, recognizing the absurdity of a private exchange,  teased “Just you and me?”  Again, the crowd roared.

Senator Lindsey Graham, when questioning Kagan about her views on the war on terror, inquired where she was last Christmas Day, when a group of suspected terrorists attempted to blow up a plane en route to Detroit.  She replied, to the delight of many:  “You know, like all Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant.”  Her nomination was contentious, and the committee’s Republicans cited many reasons for voting against  Kagan: her lack of judicial experience; her decision, while dean at Harvard, to briefly bar military recruiters from the use of law school facilities; and her work as an aide to President Bill Clinton on matters like gun rights and the procedure known as partial-birth abortion.   The partisan divide over the nomination illustrated the increasing political polarization of fights over Supreme Court nominees, but  her sense of humor drew wide praise from Republicans and Democrats alike.

 It seems to be getting better for women in male dominated fields.  In his some  of his last-ever remarks on the Senate floor, Arlen Specter, who has witnessed the rise of women in politics during his own long career cast his vote for Kagan and said: “I am also impressed with the President’s nominating another woman. I think that is very salutary. When I came to the Senate, prior to the 1980 election, we only had one woman Senator, Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum. Now our body is much improved with the 17 women we now have in this body. I thought that was a desirable trait.”  Well, that’s nice. 

It will be even nicer when women running for office or being nominated to the Supreme Court can tout their good looks or intelligence without worry that either could be used against them.  In the meantime, I’m in favor of using all the available means of persuasion to get women’s numbers to at least fifty percent in politics, law and anywhere else they want to be.  And that’s no joke.

August 2018
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