As I’ve watched the 2016 presidential campaign unfolding, I’ve been struck by several things, but first and foremost, how gender bias still exists—in the media, in politics, in many of us. I find myself constantly surprised—and then not—to see, for example, photos of Bill Clinton (the spouse!) on the front page of national newspapers when a female receives the historic first presidential nomination. How everyone picks apart Hillary Rodham Clinton’s clothes, hair, tone of voice, mannerisms, even her freaking smile.
Seriously people? When has anyone done that to Hillary’s male counterparts? Do we know who designs their suits? Their shoes? Their ties? Do we care? Hillary’s worst bad hair day is nothing compared to Donald Trump’s comb-over from hell. Why doesn’t anyone critique that?
Because we don’t do that to men. Only women. Women who seek to gain power and position.
Apparently that’s why Donald gets to lie and lie and lie again with relative impunity while Hillary, who PolitiFact has found to be one of the most honest politicians in current memory, is labeled the dishonest one. That’s another thing we do to women who seek power. We call them liars.
We also say they are too aggressive. Too shrill. Too loud.
Perhaps it’s because I recently received an invitation to attend an alumni mixer with my second law firm (now known as Weintraub|Tobin), but I’m remembering things from my legal life. How at most meetings, because I was the only female, I was asked to fetch coffee. Make copies. Run errands. Never mind that I had a law degree. Apparently I was only one step removed from a secretary. How I had to fight to get paid as much as the younger, less experienced male colleague I supervised. (And no, this did not happen at Weintraub|Tobin.)
Even more, how shocked men (and a surprising number of women) were when I mentioned what I did for a living. How if I didn’t specifically say attorney, everyone assumed legal secretary, or at best, paralegal. How I watched the Clarence Thomas hearings with sad resignation as even the women turned on Anita Hill.
Sad, but not surprised. As an attorney, I sampled the power that men receive as their birthright, and it changed me. But like Hillary Clinton and Anita Hill, like all women who struggle against the invisible but very real glass ceiling, I learned that power—at least for women—is a double-edged sword.
But that was back in the 1990s. Things are different now for women, right?
Based on this election, I have to say not really.
It didn’t surprise me that Hillary Clinton drove herself to the point of pneumonia. She had to. Like all professional women, she knew she must work twice as hard, be twice as intelligent, as any male to simply be seen as “equal.” She is not allowed sick days or time off. She cannot make mistakes. When Colin Powell used a private server as Secretary of State, that was viewed as smart and efficient. No one batted an eye. But when Hillary Clinton did the same, it’s ground for imprisonment—or worse.
If you think Hillary Clinton is a special situation, think again. The Rio Olympics demonstrated the same gender bias. If a woman set a record or received a gold medal, her husband was always right there: in the headline, in the photo, in the lead. When Michael Phelps won gold, his fiancee was never mentioned. And how can we forget Gabby Douglas? She won U.S. gold in TWO Olympics (unheard of in gymnastics) and was criticized for her attitude, her patriotism, and yes, even her hair.
At least no one criticized her weight. Baby steps….
Until next time,
NOTE: This post was written prior to Donald Trump’s video. You know the one. I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post.