Having it all—a gendered compliment or sexism with a swipe of lipstick?
For a news organization that considers itself one of the written authorities on government and politics in the New York area, you’d think they would know better. And yet, City and State has fallen victim to blatant sexism in their recent piece on U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D - N.Y. Though it may appear that they are eschewing compliments on her versatility, there is a clear, subtle, and sexist undertone.
The piece makes the parallel between the accomplished Senator and the recent Atlantic Monthly article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” that has started a fierce debate among women leaders over what it even means to have it all and what that undeniably gendered “all” even consists of (we never ask why men can’t have it all, now do we?). Instead of focusing first and foremost on her policies and her actions as an elected representative, the article comments on her pleasant demeanor and her versatility of style. There’s a subtlety in the language implying that we as voters can almost take her serious as a woman politician—if only due to her sheer feminine likability.
“Polished and petite, wholesome yet worldly, eager yet effortless in her manner, Gillibrand looks as if she would fit in as easily at a North Country dairy as a Nassau County mall or a highfalutin salon on the Upper East Side.”
This kind of sexism is subtle—and it reads almost as a compliment. Gillibrand is spoken about as if she were a versatile and vaguely substantive trophy wife, shockingly capable at fulfilling her job. Yet she is portrayed as being no further step away from your average gendered stereotype, one that the author of the article would be just as pleased at seeing in a hair salon as at the mall.
The language is entirely gendered, and I suppose that might have been the point. With Gillibrand portrayed as “a darling of progressives” (don’t even get us started on that word—darling) it seems the piece offers some kind of strange ideological encouragement and praise of the woman. That "having it all" demonstrates the upholding of motherly and familial duties to perfection while miraculously piggy backing a career as if it’s some kind of rare spectacle—like a dog walking on its hind legs, or something.
The gendered conversation does more harm than good when it comes to women discussing the pursuit of balance between work and family. You'd think City and State would know that by now.Published by Heather Honstein on 07/16/2012