Friday, March 27, 2009

The Palin Effect

Photo of the day (left): Denmark's member of the European Parliament Hanne Dahl votes as she attends a voting session with her baby at the European Parliament in Strasbourg March 26, 2009. (Reuters)

I see pictures like this one featured in the NYTimes this morning, and I feel hopeful that maybe – just maybe – we’re making some headway on the front of working mothers, specifically mothers in politics. As more and more women in leadership start to write their own rules on what a working mom really looks like, more professional women have models to pull from. I think of Nancy Pelosi taking the oath of office as Speaker of House surrounded by her grandchildren. I think of Cherie Blair asking her husband to take paternity leave while she continued to work. And it’s impossible not to mention Gov. Palin in this context. For all of the criticism, she did one thing well: she provided a striking image of a mother of young children as a female executive. The images of her holding her infant in a sling while signing legislation are powerful. Palin also revolutionized what a stuffy Governor’s office is supposed to look like, by installing a travel crib and baby swing in her offices.

However, Palin is equally responsible for perpetuating other, negative stereotypes for women in politics. When headlines are still made by a list of “The Worlds Most Beautiful Female Politicians,” clearly we’ve got a ways to go.

This week Madeleine M. Kunin, the first female governor of Vermont, wrote an insightful entry on The Huffington Post: “In Politics, What Works For A Man Still Does Not Work For A Woman.” She writes about her frustration that women are less inclined to take the risk of running for office.
To be political means to speak out, to risk being called "catty", or worse. I don't hear men worrying about whether they may be right or not. They enjoy the fight, whether it is with words or fists. Women still tend to shy away from controversy, to be uncomfortable with competition. Perhaps that is why only 17 percent of the members of Congress are female, and men are still largely running the country.
And Dahlia Lithwick on Slate challenged the merits of the Meghan McCain/Ann Coulter/Laura Ingraham media catfight. It started out on political substance and then spiraled into girls fighting over body image and age. She concludes:
But until we remember to argue on the merits, avoid the tired Mean Girls clich├ęs, and speak as though what we have to say matters to men as well as to the viewers of America's Next Top Model, we'll never be taken seriously, in the kitchen or anyplace else.
So, what's the take away? For me, all of these articles remind me to get tougher, braver and to not shy away from substantive political fights. And here's Banker Babe's take: "So women, start competing, and not just on clothes."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Britney = Sarah Palin. Madonna = Hillary.

The Herald never fails to disappoint. Today's review of the Britney Spear's concert in Boston last night opens with these sentences:

"Britney is not Madonna. She just ain’t.

Madonna is Hillary Clinton. She’s whip smart and survives, even thrives by adapting. And Lord knows she wants it more than anyone.

Britney is Sarah Palin. Baby drama headlines. Podunk back story and a massive industry machine behind her. She’s a manufactured star aimed at the lowest common denominator."

So I'm probably supposed to have my feminist politichick feathers in a ruffle over these quotes. Yes, Hillary and Palin are more substantive, more educated, more role model-like for the next generation of young girls. And yes, this is another cheap and tired use of the "cat fight" journalism tool for writing about women.

But damn. I love Madonna. And I love Hillary. And hell, if politics is being used to interpret pop culture, rather than the other way around, I'll take it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Grandma Pelosi

Loving this in today’s Politico: GOP finds Pelosi an elusive target Republicans struggle to demonize Nancy Pelosi.

And there’s another thing that makes her harder to hate on, Republicans say — she’s a grandmother of eight.
“Pelosi’s a particularly tough demographic to demonize,” says a senior Republican strategist who has okayed several anti-Pelosi ads during the 2006 campaign.

“She’s a woman, and she’s of a certain age level, and that’s a demographic both parties are trying to court. She just doesn’t evoke that same kind of visceral reaction [as Limbaugh]. She’s not a big, bellowing heavyset guy who is prone to controversial statements.”
And another reminder of why I heart Pelosi: In Harper’s Bazaar last fall (also where the amazing photo is from): “I went to Congress to change the policies of our country. I did not go to change the behaviors of members of Congress. I hope that by the way I perform my duties, they will have a better impression of the capabilities of women, but power is not anything that’s given away. Power is something you have to compete for. “

“I think we’ve got her pretty well occupied”

From today's New York Times:
Obama Taps Clinton Ideas but Not Clinton Herself
“I think we’ve got her pretty well occupied,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, adding that the president and Mrs. Clinton had spoken about her experience with health care “only in the most general terms.”
Well, yes, David. Hillary is "occupied". With China, and North Korea, and Israel, and Iran, and Syria.

Axelrod's tone makes it sound like they gave Hillary the Secretary of State post simply to keep her distracted and too busy globetrotting to have time to interfere with health care reform.

Seriously? Even still, he can't muster up an appreciative tone, but instead just a sigh of relief at finally figuring out a way to manage that pesky woman? Sigh.

PS - If you haven't seen it already, check out this amazing slide show from Hillary's trip to Asia.

Thinking about being a postal worker

Even more articles about women and the recession over the past few weeks. Rebecca Traister on Salon has an excellent piece on the role of the recession in reshaping traditional gender roles: “As the economy has soured, so has our stomach for stories about gains women have made in recent years. Now we long for comfortably numb, soothingly regressive versions of sex difference, a death throe of a wealth and gender structure that began to crumble before the economy did.”

And a terribly disturbing cover story on Forbes next week: “Terminated: Why the Women of Wall Street Are Disappearing”: "For years, as the economy boomed, the financial industry was a place of seemingly limitless opportunity for women. It offered high-paying jobs and untold possibilities for advancement. [Now]…none of the leading Wall Street banks--Goldman Sachs, the combined Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley--has a single woman in any of the top three jobs.
With the layoffs, "you have taken out a whole generation of future female managing directors," says Lisa Conley, 42, the sole female director in the health care group, who was also let go in November."

So where are women doing better than men? The New York Times had a fantastic interactive graphic earlier this week detailing the wage gap by occupation: “Why Is Her Paycheck Smaller?” Looks like the jobs that women are being “overpaid” compared to their male counterparts are postal service clerks and special education teachers. Another bright spot: Only one out of 89 women is behind bars or monitored, compared to one out of 18 men.

Still looking for that silver lining....