What women's rights look like when the two sides come together as one.
What women's rights are when women are no longer manipulated by party rhetoric.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Are We Women All In Our Own Private Bunkers?

Cynthia Ruccia

July 11, 2011

I am struck by all that I have read this week and have come to the conclusion that we women are all stuck in our own private bunkers doing the best we can in solitude. We are somehow going along, living our lives, somehow handling the pervasive sexism that surrounds us in our own singular ways in order to get by.

The news of the past week included the continuing sliming of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, the New Yorker Magazine article about Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, the lead article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine about Sheila Bair and the continuing references to Brooksley Born, and finally the tragic but amazing story coming out this week about Jayce Dugard with a two-hour lead-in last night on ABC.

The tie-in for all of these references is that here we have in all of the cases (except Dugard-----that is a special curcumstance all its own) searing examples where the stereotyping of women has lead to not only diminishment of all of us women, but a horrible economic collapse that could possibly have been avoided had the women been listened to.

My theme here today is sexist stereotyping and the consequences when we don't stand up to it.

Let's start with Sheila Bair and Brooksley Born. These two women, one the head of the FDIC until last week and the other the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Clinton administration, both warned the men who run everything that much was amiss in the way that the regulations were skewing our economy and that if things weren't fixed, we could suffer an economic collapse of epic proportions. These two women sat at the same table as the men in charge, had supposedly equal power, and spoke up loudly and unequivocally about the present dangers. HOWEVER, they were labelled "difficult" and "not team players" because they were saying something that the others didn't want to hear. It happens to all people who speak up. However, in this case, they were so easily diminished by using those words that no one felt that they needed to take these women seriously enough to consider what they were saying. It's a classic case of the old boy's club coming together and marginalizing the girls. After all----they are only girls and we don't want to be like girls!!!!

Continuing on, the Palin and Bachmann sagas seem to be never ending. And I have to say that these two women handle their sliming fearlessly. Palin, in my humble opinion, never ceases to amaze me with her brilliant play of the game. If you look at it like a game of chess, Palin is inventing moves that no one has ever seen before. This genius of hers is starting to become stronger than any sexist meme that anyone wants to throw at her. Why? Because many of us out there and most of the journalism and political grandees wait with baited breath to see what her next move will be. So much so that the typical sexist stereotype of Sarah Palin, that she is stupid, becomes less credible.

The Bachmann story at this moment in time is sadly taking one of the uglier turns women running for office must bear, and that is the attempt to discredit via the husband. Whatever your views of what is starting to come out about Marcus Bachmann and his supposed views of gays and lesbians (and remember that this story line is originating from the left---reason to consider that the evidence just might be very distorted), the successful strategy of minimizing a woman because of her spouse is used all of the time. Why? Because it works!! You never see this strategy used against a male candidate. It is akin to the strategy that is used by both sides that if you call a female candidate a whore, her support drops by 10 points. Anyways, it remains to be seen how Bachmann will counter the current offensive against her, but I am pretty sure she will do it loudly and well.

Which brings me to the article about Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. My piece takes a more positive turn here. Sandberg has done well in a man's world but she also has taken the time to understand why women aren't getting to the top, and she spends time mentoring other women and working to push them ahead in leadership. The most important message I got out of this piece is that women aren't good at standing up for themselves and thus miss all kinds of opportunities for advancement. She used as her example a woman who wanted to move up but wasn't being offered the kinds of positions she had her eye on. Instead, she was offered the VP of Human Resources, a real step up. However, the woman turned it down because she felt she wasn't qualified and so it was offered to a man. The point Steinberg makes is that a man in the same position wouldn't have ever hesitated for a minute in accepting the job and wouldn't have worried for even a nanosecond if he were qualified or not. The same thing has happened to me in my political life, being offered to run for a position that I wasn't sure I was qualified for. I told them that I needed to study it for a few weeks and would get beck with them. Although they said fine, in the interim they found a man with fewer qualifications than I had who said yes, went on to win, and actually did a great job. And I had decided, too late, that I could have done a great job too.

Another interesting story fitting right in is the book "Knowing Your Value," by Mika Brzezinski. I understand that this is a woman who many of us, myself included, have a hard time with because she couldn't bring herself to be anything but snide about Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign. That for many of is, was and continues to be unforgivable. But that's a subject for another day. My point is that in her book, Brzezinski talks about how she wasn't being paid as much as others but had never spoken up about it. When she finally did, she got her pay in line with the others and learned (and counsels in the book) that we women MUST speak up for ourselves.

It can be difficult to speak up for ourselves because of all of the stereotypes that are thrown at us and they are hurtful-------witch, bitch, ditz, stupid, difficult, not team players,etc. We know them all. It is painful and as humans we want to avoid pain. So what happens? We stop sticking our necks out even if we are right because we are afraid that someone is going to come over, knock us down, and we may never be able to get up again. We thus limit ourselves. My mentor, Mary Kay, one of the most courageous and successful women of the 20th century, used to tell us a story about fleas. If you put fleas in a jar, they jump up to the lid over and over again because that is all the farther they can jump. When you free the fleas, they still only jump as high as the lid because they haven't figured out that they can jump as high as they want.And so it can be with we women. So afraid to go further because of the sexist stereotyping taunts that we stop trying.

Which brings me to Jayce Dugard who lived through a story so unspeakable we cannot even begin to grasp it. She is now coming out with her story, and she appears to be a positive, courageous woman with a great sense of humor. Not that she didn't suffer, mind you. She suffered beyond our imaginations. It's just that during her ordeal, she was unable to speak up for herself and free herself. And herein lies the lesson for us.

We can speak up and we must speak up against our enemy and that is the constant sexist stereotyping that holds women back. If we all speak up against it, we can start a ripple effect that will silence it once and for all. And once that silence begins, women will be able to take their place of power where we should have been all along. It's time for the US to lead the world again------in female parity at the top this time. It will take good old American ingenuity and courage, but we've got it!!! Let's get going!!!!!!!


  1. I've been talking a lot with my roommate and my fiance recently about how women are almost most to blame for today's sexism. We don't stand together like men do on a group/societal level, and we don't treat each other well on a personal level. It always grates on me when I meet women who say they "only get along with men" or treat feminism as a dirty word. Unless we learn to stand up for ourselves and each other, we will never make any more progress and the progress achieved by feminists that went before will continue to erode.

    Caroline Cochran

  2. Bachman has slimed herself by signing onto that Family pledge, which includes the slavery statements. She herself has talked about their businesses. Partnership with her husband. Whether that means his stop being gay counseling bus., I don't know. Regardless, by being married to him, she is associated with the ideas. And she has not made any bones on her views about homosexuality and abortion. So, she can expect criticism.

    Yes indeed, women get it 100x worse then men. With that reality, some people speak up (as here), and most don't. And Anonymous' comments above are so true. However, I also see women who will vote for a woman just because she is a woman. Where is the thoughtfulness in that? It is the same as voting for Obama because he is African American in perception.

  3. This turned out to be a little different than I expected, but nonetheless was a satisfying read and a well thought out article. Good on ya, Cynthia!

    One thing we don't often talk about when we discuss this particular topic is how criticism effects women. It's one of the many ways we're trained differently than men that help keep us down, and prevent us from being bold, creative thinkers, and thus contributors to shaping our culture. We have got to get some thicker skin, and we now have models for that with the Sarah Palins and Michelle Bachmann's of the world.

    For the longest time, feminists would change direction based on every little criticism of their movement, including from other women, and especially from men. When men decided feminism was uncool and when black women decided feminism was just more white privilege, it almost killed the movement. When it was critiqued before that as a man-hating ideology that promoted lesbianism and threatened marriage, we one-upped again and entrenched abortion as THE feminist issue, making sure we made our pussies available to the men who felt we were so uncool. It's been like that down the line. With every criticism, the movement moves further away from what's good for women, and closer to what the prevailing, anti-woman power structure wants. It's a sick pattern, but it's finally being questioned.

  4. Cynthia,
    First, we are so indebted to you for your continued vigilance.
    I must say that playing the "hubby card" like the Left is doing with Michele Bachmann, is unfortunately so reminiscent of Geraldine Ferraro's candidacy, isn't it?
    As you point out, women in this culture are so demonized. And when we're not being demonized, we're being ignored because we're invisible to the rest of society most of the time.
    Thank you, again, Cynthia.

  5. Great post, Cynthia. Like Cindy I immediately thought of Geri Ferraro and her husband.

    Having worked in the "women's movement" most of my life I was constantly horrified at how women treated other women. The first National NOW Election Conference I attended was so nasty I almost gave up. But common sense prevailed.

    This is what I really admire and love about Sarah Palin. She doesn't follow the rules, she makes them up. She is canny, intuitive, and pioneering a whole different way of doing politics.

    To some extent Hillary Clinton did this as well, continuing on in the primaries no matter what the "boys" told her.

    As others have said here, until women stand up for each other and help each other and stop looking at each other as the "competition" for a man, nothing much will change. Frankly, I am no longer that interested in working for women's rights, 2008 was a vicious showcase of what women would do to other women and I can't say I have fully recovered - or that full recovery is even possible at this point. I am much more interested in just getting on with my life with few or no politics cluttering up my personal landscape. And the only politics I encounter are those in my mystery or sci-fi books.

    But thanks for your continued work and dedication!

  6. I'm with Cindy and Senneth. I thought of Ferraro immediately too.

    I hope Bachmann has Rhino skin. They are going to throw sexism at her like rice after a wedding. She'll be accused of being a racist, a religious wacko, a nun, a prostitute, stupid, devious, etc. The racism accusations are already starting --- the least we can do for other women is look into the facts before we pile on like attack dogs from both sides --- while the good old boys just sit back, watch, and laugh.

    Well put article Cynthia!

  7. Thanks for the kind words Jane, Cindy, Senneth and lovelalola!! I appreciate it!! we've all got important things to say in this fight against sexism and for parity, and it's no time for silence.

  8. interesting idea women standing up for each other. When did that ever happen?

  9. Like Kathy said, when did that ever happen. Some of the most virulent attacks on conservative women come from liberal women.

    So long as a certain percentage of women prefer to swoon over some damn man rather than support other women our superior numbers mean squat! And doesn't that just frost your crockies!

  10. KenoshaMarge----you said it!! Really gets me crazy watching the liberal women attack the conservative women!! When did that become ok?

  11. I don't know when it became okay with them because it is never okay with me. Fight over issues and have an intense argument. That's fine with me. But the politics of personal destruction by women towards women is not.

    Personally I don't like Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I don't think she like so many other liberals is such an ideologue that she refuses to see any other point of view than her own. Somehow that seems to give her the right, at least in her own mind to lie and distort. I don't like that. And so I don't "like" her. I don't want to attack her or her children or her husband. I just don't like her and don't respect her. Sometimes she says stuff that drives me over the edge and then I say things I wish I hadn't said.

    I am comfortable with disagreeing with other women, I am ashamed when I fall into the trap of demonizing or name-calling. Anger and partisanship does make pinheads of us all. JMO

  12. I know what you mean KenoshaMarge. I get pissed off at Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others too. But I really try to concentrate on how I express that because since our society is so saturated with sexism, bad sexist remarks come out of my mouth too without my even thinking about it. I just keep trying to do like Cynthia has said and that is to speak up, but don't be sexist about it. It's an interesting line to draw.

  13. When my "better angel is in charge I am capable of commenting in a decent rational way. When my worser devil is in the ascendant, not so much.

    But I try. And when I say something that is out of line I am ashamed. I wish everyone would just "try" to rise above the politics of personal destruction. And I wish that every one would leave everyone else's family alone. Attacking the spouse and kiddies is so not cool. Actually it is so not common decency. That is something I am glad to say I have never done. We can all be better. We can all be strong and have the other woman's back. We don't have to agree. It would be strange if we did. But we should never attack another woman viciously for the great crime of having the audacity to think differently than we do. Let's leave that kind of thing to the Obamacrats who did it to many/most of us for the great crime of supporting Hillary Clinton. I haven't forgotten or forgiven that. Doubtful I ever will.

  14. I haven't gotten over it either KenoshaMarge----doubt I ever will