Did Gender Matter? Was It Women Who Shutdown the Shutdown?

Is it gender stereotyping to say women senators work together better?

Now that the 16-day shutdown of the federal government is finally over, the media has been seeking those who made the deal happen and they have decide it was the women of the Senate. Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer, writing for The New York Times, decided it was the women on the bipartisan budget committee who affected change. Their story “Senate Women Lead in Effort to Find Accord” focuses on Maine’s Senator Susan Collins and a coalition she formed with other female senators, they pointed to the collaborative leadership style of women and their ability to work together as the catalyst for agreement. They write:

In a Senate still dominated by men, women on both sides of the partisan divide proved to be the driving forces that shaped a negotiated settlement.

Other outlets took a similar angle that it was the women – possibly because they were women—who changed the tone of the discussion. Time declared that “Women Are The Only Adults Left in Washington,” while USA Today called the women “Senate Sisters.” The Huffington Post gave women full credit for “getting us out” and many others list this instance as a case for getting more women into politics.

Name It. Change It. is often critical of negative stereotypes of women, but positive stereotypes – such as the concept of collaborative work being a specific trait of women – can also be harmful. As Marc Tracy, writing for The New Republic, points out in his coverage, viewing all women as compromising and collaborative is still engaging in gender essentialism. Women can be just as stubborn, willful, or stuck in their ways as men – or as helpful, collaborative and willing to seek compromise. When generalizations are made about an entire gender, it limits what is considered acceptable behavior.

Men are often praised for sticking to their guns, standing up for their values and never compromising. If we stick to this essentialist narrative, it’s unclear if woman would be praised for those same qualities.

The media can offer praise to the women of the Senate for their work to end the shutdown. Such praise only becomes problematic when it emphasis that work in characteristics that allegedly all women possess.

Published by Victoria Edel on 10/18/2013

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