I survived watching the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The only moment that made me scream “What!?!” at the top of my lungs came during post-debate analysis when syndicated columnist Mark Shields said that “Clinton is not likeable” and that she didn’t show herself to be the “kind of person you want in the carpool or on the PTA.”
Suddenly I felt like I was 13 years old again struggling to contain tears of frustration as I attempt to argue with my father and older brother that women are as good as men and deserve equal rights.
I didn’t have the language in 1978 to articulate the documented societal, cultural, and institutional obstacles that get in the way of women advancing and thriving in their careers. What I did have all those years ago was a bone deep knowledge that I and other women were not getting a fair shake because of our gender.
By benefit of the world I grew up in and the family that raised me I learned quite a few lessons early:
- Tears make you weak and only the strong get respect.
- Strong women are angry and no one likes an angry woman.
- If you don’t smile all the time you are angry.
- Its OK for men to interrupt you and it’s rude of you to interrupt others.
- You really don’t know what you are talking about if a mans opinion differs from yours.
- If you complain about sexist behavior you are using gender as an excuse.
- You only see sexist behavior because you are looking for it.
- Other women may support your position, or tell you to stop making waves.
Watching the presidential debate last night, it appears that almost nothing has changed since I was 13.
One of the most accomplished women alive was accorded zero respect by an inexperienced man who blustered and shouted instead of answering questions. The post-debate judgement of performance was equally bizarre:
- Her calm, composed presence was called “an icy stare.”
- Her composed, thoughtful answers were called “a timid, hesitant start.”
- Her thoughtful, detailed plans were called “an inability to give a short answer.”
Otherwise known as she can’t win for losing.
I recently had the pleasure of delivering a keynote at a women’s conference where I very lightly touched on some of the ways that gender bias can get in the way of women advancing and thriving in their careers. I say lightly because not everyone (women included) believes that gender bias is a thing.
Joan Williams does a brilliant job detailing four kinds of bias in her book “What Works for Women at Work.” Williams calls the balance women must strike between “likeability” and authority, “The Tightrope”. This “Tightrope” is one Hillary Clinton has been walking for so long that she can probably now do blind-folded pirouettes at 10,000 feet.
But it doesn’t matter if her “likability” isn’t based on whether she’s the kind of woman you want sitting next to you at an important meeting, but whether she’s the kind of woman you want to rely on for your car pool.
While this sexist comment by Shields was meant to show how unlikable Hillary Clinton is I must say that if I had to choose someone to rely on to pick up my kid after practice I would stake my daughter’s LIFE on Clinton being there every time. Early. With freakin snacks.
In fact, I believe she is qualified for – and has excelled at – every position she has ever taken on from senior class president to senator to secretary of state.
So yes, Mark Shields, I am comfortable with Hillary Clinton running the PTA, the car pool and the United States of America.