Rarely are women kept out of higher positions simply because they are women. No, it's because they aren't aggressive enough, or they're too aggressive. There are gaps in their resume, or times when they weren't in the office when we needed them (maybe because they took off time to have and care for a child while the fathers stayed at work.)
Deborah Tannen has spent her career as a linguist documenting the differences between men and women's talk and why they handicap women in male dominated institutions.
Norming is one of her topics. [I can't find a good overview. Try checking out her book Talking 9-5.] The norm has traditionally been a white male in a suit. That's what leaders are supposed to look like. And people who don't look (and act) like a white male, have trouble moving up out of subordinate roles. Not so much because they are women, but because they aren't men. They don't match our image of the Norm. Individuals who differ from that norm stand out. They don't fit in. The more they differ from how we expect them to look and act, the harder it will be for them to succeed. Maybe they're just not part of the team, like the white males who don't wear a suit or don't go out drinking with the guys. Blacks stand out, because they're not white. The whiter they are, the less they stand out.
Women stand out in a lose-lose sort of way. The more they try to look or sound like men - cut their hair short, wear suits, raise their voices, talk dirty - the less they look like the women men think they should look like. We've all seen the lists of descriptors for men and women who behave the same way. When women act like men act, they're punished for it. Where men are seen as strong, women are seen as pushy. Women just don't fit our images of what the ideal leader should look like and men (and women) don''t see this as discrimination. For them it's simply 'the truth.'
Here's a clear example of how 'norms' play a role in Americans choosing people who look like our ideal of a leader from a 2012 article on The American College President Study:
"In 1986, the first year of ACE’s college president study, the demographic profile of the typical campus leader was a white male in his 50s. He was married with children, Protestant, held a doctorate in education, and had served in his current position for six years.The study does note that the percentage of women presidents in those 25 years rose from ten to 26.
Twenty-five years later, with few exceptions, the profile has not changed."
But underlying this, I would argue, is the fear of change, of losing power that men have in our (and most other) society.
C. Jane Kendrick on Weekend Edition today gave one reason why this happens as she talked about campaigning for Clinton in Utah:
". . . when I think about how people feel about Hillary here in Utah, it's not simply that they disagree with her. It's that they hate her. I think there's a character assassination that happened in the 1990s, long before she ever ran and I think long before Bill was president, that started with questioning women's roles and gender roles. I think she really pushed Utah's buttons.
". . . she poses a huge threat to the system that works in Utah. I think she poses a threat to the patriarchal system. She poses a threat to gender roles. Everything that I was taught to hold dear is the opposite of what Hillary has - who she is, except for, you know, being a grandmother and a mother, which I think a lot of women here, in my past, growing up, would say perhaps she didn't do enough of that."
Sure, people who strongly believe in the free market as the perfect system, who believe abortion is murder, and that guns are as essential an extension of the human anatomy as a cell phone, all have 'rational' reasons to oppose Clinton. But to hate her? To make her into a demon?
The Republicans have been smearing their male opponents with sophisticated propaganda too. Their crowning achievement was the Swiftboating campaign that took Kerry's heroic war record and made him into a traitor with lies and innuendo.
And that's what they've been doing with Hillary Clinton since Bill Clinton walked onto the national stage.
A PEW study discusses the top qualities people look for in a leader and perceived gender differences in those qualities. Honesty comes out on top among the top four traits. And women are perceived as far more honest than men. There's little doubt in my mind that's why the Republicans' most constant sound-bite on Clinton is about her being dishonest. Just as they worked hard to whittle away John Kerry's war hero advantage over the draft dodging George W. Bush, they are pounding on Clinton's honesty.
But this is against the backdrop of women not looking like our norm for leadership. After all, Catholics still won't accept women priests, let alone a Pope. Orthodox Jews still segregate men and women, and Fundamentalists tell us women should obey their husbands.
Of course, Clinton's being a woman is only one of the many obstacles she has faced in her quest for the presidency. We only pick a president every four years. That's a possibility of 25 slots per century if no one were ever reelected. The odds are extremely low for men too. But even lower for women.
And while I have doubts about some of Clinton's past and how it would play out in a Clinton presidency, I've had those doubts in every election since I first got to vote for president in 1968. Nobody's ideal candidate is ever on the ballot. All candidates have warts.
But in my observation of presidential election for the last 50 years or so, no basically well qualified male candidate's election, given an opponent like Trump, would still be in doubt. Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater, whose policies were not nearly as bizarre as Trump's and whose character was not in question. Not even marginally qualified male candidates with an opponent like Trump would have anything to worry about.
We have memes that talk about women (or substitute whatever group that doesn't fit Tannen's idea of the American leader norm) having to work twice as hard as men, such as Charlotte Witton's:
"Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult."I'm sure lots of men dismissed this because of what they would have called her smart ass conclusion.
What's particularly telling when this double standard is applied to women, are that facts that women belong to
- the richest and poorest (and all those in-between) economic classes,
- the best and worst educated,
- every different religious denomination
- every ethnic group
- 0% of US presidents have been women
- 4% of Fortune 500 company presidents are women in 2016
- 6.9% of generals and admirals in the US military are women in 2016
- 5.2% of commercial airline pilots are women
- "Women occupy just 6.3 percent, or 10 out of 160 head chef positions at 15 prominent U.S. restaurant groups analyzed by Bloomberg."
I can't find numbers on the percent of women heading labor unions, but this article begins:
"Why do unions have so few female leaders? On the face of the facts, that doesn’t make sense. After all, 45.5 percent of unionists are women."
I already mentioned that only 26% of university presidents. You get the picture.
Where are women doing 'better'? An Education Week article titled "Women on par with men in principalships" tells us:
"Looking at data for the 2007-08 school year, the report shows that 50 percent of public school principals and 53 percent of private school principals were female that year."But that doesn't look all that good when you consider that men made up less than a quarter of the public school teachers, the pool from which principals are drawn.*
While women might not get top head chef positions, according to QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) magazine in 2011
"more than 50 percent of restaurants are now owned by women"And the book Supervision in The Hospitality Industry* tells us that
"more than two-thirds of the supervisors in the food service industry are women"Which makes sense, but is a dubious achievement, because the New Republic lists the food service industry as the lowest paid in the nation.
When you consider that just over 50% of the population is women, these numbers show that more is going on than "they aren't as good." There are paths to many jobs that women haven't been able to get on. Many commercial pilots, for example, got their training in the military when women weren't allowed those jobs. Trade apprenticeships didn't take women. And so on.
But think about this. Until very recently, every married man was married to a woman. And many, if not most, had daughters. They all had mothers. Yet they continued to make decisions and to support a system that made the women in their lives second class citizens.
This is deeply embedded in our psyches, and we still have a lot of self-reflection to do. This campaign has started some of that. Just as no one expected Nixon to start the US talking to China, no one expected Trump to start us talking about the prevalence of sexual assaults. (A key difference was that Nixon went to China consciously and purposely.)
But when anyone says they can't vote for Clinton because she's not honest, or because of emails, or the Clinton Foundation, start asking them about what they know about male candidates of the past and the baggage they had. Ask them specifically what they know about her dishonesty, or is it just a word they associate with her. Then ask them about their fathers' treatment of women. Ask them about their fathers' attitude about family. Their own ideas about families. You might prepare by reading what George Lakoff says on that. Go down to where he talks about conservative and liberal conceptions of family.
You can also see Deborah Tannen's take on the election before the Democratic primary was over.
And here she's discusses the interruptions in the first debate.
I'm reasonably confident that Clinton is going to win, but I shouldn't have any doubts about it given the qualifications of these two candidates. And if you think things got bad when we elected a Black president, just wait until we have a woman president. All the misogyny that's bottled up will come exploding out. And only when it's all out in the open for everyone to see, will we be able to process it and move on.
Again, sorry seems a little disjointed, but the world I'm writing about is also disjointed. There's no simple cause and effect. Lots of factors play roles in this first US election with a woman as a candidate from a major party.
*I'd note that in 1970 I taught 5th grade for a year in Los Angeles. I was one of very few male teachers, though the principal and the vice principal were both male. One day, the vice principal invited me to go to an event for male teachers. He explained that this was the route to become a principal.