For me, this past week has been fascinating in its extremes. On the one hand, we saw a huge leap forward for women, something to celebrate and feel enormous pride. On the other hand, we saw some of the same shameful sexist hijinks that truly are getting old and need to stop. Really!!! Let me explain.....
On the bursting with elation front, we saw a first in the history of the world. President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil became the first woman to open the debate at the U.N. General Assembly. She used the occasion to champion women calling the 21st century the "women's century" and trumpeting women's economic equality as the key to prosperity. Here's a transcript of her speech. The only thing better than women being in charge is women using their platform to uplift other women. Although women have had a mixed record of bringing other women into the executive suite, it is so frigging awesome to see what happens when things go right on that accord, and this week gave us a potent example of how the world could be if women ran things in proportion to their numbers. So everyone take a victory lap on behalf of President Rousseff's magnificent historic moment. Let's shout, sing, and dance in advance of President Rousseff's forecast, that women will finally be able to take their rightful place in the 21st century, and that such fabulous events as hers will become boringly routine.
However, hmmmmm, two steps back. Sigh. The next event that all of us who ache for women's equality had to suffer through this week made me realize that if the 21st century is going to be the women's century, we've got some work to do. Way too much of it actually. I keep thinking about Hillary Clinton who goes around the world in her position as U.S. Secretary of State championing the rights of women wherever she goes. I have thought that she has set the tone so that a President Dilma Rouseff can follow her example and do the same whenever she has an international platform. It's an emotional moment every time Hillary speaks of women's economic parity. She has been known to say that we women enjoy rights here in the United States that most women in the rest of the world can't even dream of, and in that she would be correct. But that doesn't mean that there isn't trouble in paradise here in the U.S., and it doesn't mean that that final push for equality in the United States isn't going to be brutal.
This week, we had a very public display of what happens to women who rise to the executive suite and what they have to endure. In Ron Suskind's new book "Confidence Men," a disquieting portrait emerged about the women serving in the Obama administration in high profile jobs. We got to hear how Anita Dunn, the White House Communications Director, felt that she was working in such a gender hostile workplace that a lawsuit could easily have been brought. When this information hit the media, she immediately walked it back saying that she never said such a thing. Suskind countered with the fact that indeed she did, and he had the taped conversation to prove it. So began a maddening back and forth between Dunn and Suskind about what was meant, what was taken out of context, what was said, etc. and so on.
Another example from this same book was a quote by Christina Romer, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors that she was made to feel like "a piece of meat." She too later walked back her comments saying that she couldn't imagine herself saying such a thing. She was also apparently so fed up that she wanted to walk out of a meeting with the president in protest of how badly she was being treated because she was female. Again she later publicly walked that statement back as well. And Suskind also revealed that she had indeed said these things because again, he had tape to prove it.
The point here is not the fact that there was a sexist boys club atmosphere in the Obama White House. That has been a subject of much discussion and accusations of that sort have been made from the get go. Just google "Obama boys club" and you get over 22 million entries. The point is that the sexist things WERE happening and if the women dared speak about it EVEN AFTER THEY'D LEFT they were apparently subjected to enough harassment that they had to publicly walk back their statements, even the ones they were quoted on tape as saying.
I just have to shake my head at this stuff. Women experience this level of pressure every day because in many workplaces, probably most workplaces, they are subjected to all forms of degradation and harassment. In most of those cases, they have little recourse if they are to keep their jobs. And in a difficult economy such as the one we find ourselves in, women will put up with it to a greater degree to hold onto a scarce job. And if women dare speak up about this incorrect sometimes unlawful behavior, they will lose their jobs and they might even be blackballed. It's a lose/lose proposition.
It is very unseemly to see this kind of garbage coming from the White House. I have not used my blog to criticize President Obama at all, but the evidence continues to mount about how this administration has just been inadequate in setting the tone that no sexist behavior will be tolerated. His campaign also completely failed in 2008 to stand up to the mudslinging sexism on display in both the primary and general elections. I guess they saw, sadly, that that sexism worked to their advantage. That would be horrible enough. But even worse, what if they saw it and didn't recognize it? That pattern is emerging from this White House. Most of us Hillary supporters are anything but surprised by this. But what we are surprised about is that they continue to practice this blind sexism and get away with it.
And these reasons are why we still have a gargantuan mountain of work to do in the United States to realize President Dilma Rousseff's vision of the 21st century being the women's century. We are still acting like 20th century sexists here in the United States. Enough already!!!!!!