Thursday, November 10, 2016

Of Pantsuits and Other "P" words: Thoughts on leadership, elections, and misogyny

I listened with horror, and yes, righteous anger as activist Van Jones talked about the election of Donald Trump being a "white-lash" again the resurgent movement for full civil rights for people of color. Tears welled up in my eyes as he spoke. He was so right. The coded calls for the "good old days" by Donald Trump as black protestors at this rallies were assaulted and ejected are just the tip of the iceberg, as they say-- an iceberg that also is composed of Trump's endorsement, never denounced, by the Ku Klux Klan.
But there's more, here, I fear.
It is white-lash, and more. It is also continuing proof of the fear of female leadership in our country, and that "leadership" is defined by appearance and gender norms, consciously or subconsciously, even among women.
The fact that "college educated" men overwhelmingly voted for Trump is part of this, and not surprising if you have worked in a white-collar workplace, including businesses, engineering firms, and schools/universities, and paid any sort of attention. College educated women are seen as competition and as threats by many college-educated men, not equal co-workers, even as women begin to make up a majority of college students. Maybe even especially so.
Many men in college tend to study in areas that are still male-dominated (engineering, business). Business and engineering colleges' curricula also do not expose them to different ideas or cultures (humanities) the way that other colleges in the arts and sciences do. These fields tend to be more vocational-education in intent than providing a broad-based education in the classical sense. Even among men in education (assumed to be a female-dominated field) or academia (NOT considered to be a female-dominated field by a long shot), you see a marked difference in the number of male principals and female principals, deans, provosts, and superintendents, since administrative leadership models are still strongly tilted toward hierarchical, masculine models of authority.
Business and engineering (and even education) are still fields in which women have made little headway in leadership positions (witness the recent controversies, semi-humorously addressed by women on twitter, about mansplaining in the workplace, the women-in-science-being-more-emotional-or-looking-for-love storm a few months back, the deliberate adoption of a strategy used within the Obama WH of women amplifying what women said in meetings so that their ideas would not be claimed by men, etc. How many of President Obama's most trusted official advisors were women?
Add in the strong evangelical Christian turn-out, and the adherence of most evangelical Christians (male and female) to the proof-texted prohibitions in 1 Timothy (written after Paul's death) against women exercizing authority over men, and the fact that this spills over into civic life, and the problem is right there, staring us in the face. The Catholic Church also prohibits women from positions of ordained leadership, and its male leadership insists that will never change, continuing with the current (supposedly more progressive) pontiff. Even within Christian denominations that do ordain women, women tend to not be selected for leadership of powerful congregations or even have automatic default consideration toward full-time positions.
Yes, there are outliers, but when women DO rise to positions of leadership (and that's pronounced "power"), we more often hear about their failures than their successes, and one woman's "failure" is often used against all women in the way we never apply such reasoning against men. Often, the "failures" of women in leadership, even in the church, result from them adopting a masculine, hierarchical, authoritarian model that is not only aggressive in a way that neither men nor women employees really appreciate, but also guarantees resistance, especially because it is being exercised by a woman. So, women are "damned if you do, and damned if you don't." Women who DO adopt hierarchical, "rationalist" models of leadership are ar best "unlike-able" (as we heard repeatedly the last 18 months), "cold," "over-cautious," or other, more derogatory terms which for some reason are almost always associated with both male and female anatomy (yes, I am being a little sarcastic here). And then there's the issue of how female appearance (clothes, make-up or no make-up, hairstyle, age, body type) ends up figuring into women's identities in that same "DIYD, DIYD" calculus.
The very rhetoric employed in our society as a matter of course and amplified during this political season betrays an acceptance of anti-woman prejudice by both men and and some women, consciously or unconsciously. Never forget how almost-gleefully Trump's remarks about being able to grab women by a deeply insulting slang term were repeated over and over, thereby normalizing the use of that word, and reducing a woman's entire physical presence to that word. That same word is used by men toward other men to denote weakness. That same word was thrown around on network television tens of thousands of times, while scatalogical terms related to human waste are ruthlessly bleeped out as being too shocking. Think about that. Words that equate women to female dogs or body parts are fine, but for God's sake, let's ruthlessly censor words about poop. And women use these words against each other as much as men do against women.
The consequences of these various kinds of backlash, both racial and gender-based, are going to affect us for years to come, and have bracketed my entire life-time.


  1. Thanks for this blog, Leslie. Your words express many of the same feelings I have coming out of this election cycle.

    1. Thank you Janis, and thanks for visiting the blog. We WILL get through this, but I am SO tired of fighting this particular battle my entire life. AND walking around in a state of shell-shock for the last many days.

  2. Hillary actually won the popular vote. She'd have won by an even greater margin if her campaign strategy wasn't so faulty (and, well, if the truth about her corruption hadn't surfaced).

    The ways of the Electoral College is what actually caused her to lose even though she won the popular vote. Either elimination or adjustment of the EC perhaps needs to happen.

    Blame misogyny if you want, but I think it's a lot more complex than that.

  3. Yes, Matthew, there are certainly other reasons in addition to misogyny. I am not so simple to think there is one thing at play here. I do not know about any "truth of her corruption" of which you speak. I am also not someone who expects to get everything one wants in a single candidate, and am leery of those who associated her alleged "corruption" (which often involces havinc compromised) with Trump's (which often involved refusing to pay people and violating his agreements with both spouses and subcontractors, for starters, not to mention cozying up wth White Nationalists and neo-Nazis).

    Having taught college credit US history classes, I have long understood why the Electoral College was put in place and how it works. And yes, I have long advocated (before the debacle of 2000, even) that it should be severely modified or jettisoned.

    I do not believe I implied that there is simply (!!! is it simple? not hardly) misogyny at work here. I simply chose to talk about one thing, because this is a blog post, not a book. But misogyny seems to be the last acceptable prejudice among otherwise decent people. I say this recognizing that the list of "acceptable" prejudices seems to be growing among a vocal proportion of the American electorate.