From “Femin-ish” to Feminist, or How the Democratic Primary Has Turned Me into a Raging Feminist
Almost overnight, I became a raging feminist. I know; it surprised me, too.
I’ve never thought of myself as much of a feminist, with all the baggage the term entails. I’ve always been quietly “femin-ish,” believing in equal pay, equal rights, a woman’s right to choose, but growing up in the 2000s with supportive parents and great schooling, I naively assumed such issues weren’t relevant to me, that they had already been resolved by the previous generation. I was wrong.
You’d think my awakening would have happened when I became a single, working mother at the ripe age of 22. No.
You’d think it would have happened when I began my MBA and saw damn smart women in some classes volunteer answers half as often as our male counterparts. Not yet.
No. It took Hillary Clinton running for president to set my dormant feminist fire roaring. It took friends’ references to a vague dislike of her ambition, her perceived inauthenticity, or their dismissal of her numerous successes as stemming from her “privilege,” for me to finally realize the insidious persistence of entrenched sexism. (She created that “privilege,” by the way, through a lifetime of hard work).
These opinions are from people, men and women, whom I generally like and respect. The vitriol towards Hillary we see on social media is cruder but hits the same points.
Whatever happened to the the Hillary Clinton with a 69% approval rating and hilarious Texts from Hilary meme?
Interestingly enough, it turns out this kneejerk dislike many feel towards Hillary may be grounded in psychology.
According to Professor Robert Livingston of the Harvard Kennedy School, the traditional leader in western society has been male, and our cognitive assumptions assert, subconsciously, that that is what a leader should be. Moreover, powerful women, aka non-prototypical leaders, face a “double bind.” They need to express confidence and assert themselves, yet these traits cause a backlash associated with a violation of traditional female warmth.
Successful women leaders have to affirm their authority and competence, often at the expense of perceived warmth. This is stunningly evident as you move up in the business world, where 40% of middle managers are female, but only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs share that distinction (the highest percentage in history).
This double bind is best illustrated by the Supreme Court case of Price Waterhouse v Hopkins. Ann Hopkins, a highly productive executive at Price Waterhouse in the 1980s, is denied partnership because, despite bringing in ample business for the company, she is seen as brash, abrasive, and even unethical. Sound familiar?
The case proceeds to show that many of her male counterparts exhibit similar or worse behavior. However, unlike Hopkins, their cantankerous displays are disregarded or even rewarded. The court decided in favor of Ann Hopkins on the grounds that she found herself in an impossible “double bind,” where she would not be promoted if she were too warm (because she would be seen as likable but not tough enough to do the job) and would not be promoted if she behaved too aggressively (because she would be seen as tough but insufficiently warm). All too familiar.
I would argue that Hillary Clinton faces a similar double bind in this election, and, as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ann Hopkins, I hope the court of public opinion will ultimately rule in favor of Hillary.
If Hillary behaved as her primary rival does, what paints him as authentic and lovable would be seen in her as chaotic and unkempt. This was evident even in last night’s democratic debate. His passionate yells would be her harpy screams.
But, Bernie is just more likable, right? Never mind that he has been part of the very establishment against which he rails for the past several decades, that he holds minimal foreign policy experience, that his plans are economically infeasible, that he has repeatedly voted against commonsense gun control legislation, and that he has a lot of anger but few answers. He may have never taken money from Wall Street, but I grimace when he says he does not have SuperPAC support (he does). We can ignore these red flags because he just seems more sincere. I would encourage you to look within to understand the origins of that perception, or perhaps why you may more readily accept Hillary’s missteps while dismissing Senator Sanders’.
Being a feminist does not mean supporting a candidate because she is female. It means having the grace and self-awareness to take a second look and understand why the most qualified person in this race, who, though imperfect, has consistently dedicated her life to making others’ better, is receiving such personal hatred.
I am prepared to stand with Hillary and urge you to treat her with the same dignity as any other candidate. To do so won’t be easy — we must battle the implicit biases instilled in us by the media and society. If we shatter some glass ceilings in the process though, wouldn’t that be a wonderful bonus?
I am a millennial, die-hard progressive, and newborn feminist.
We have a lot of work to do. Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for the wakeup call.