Ignoring Sexism In Politics Doesn’t Eliminate It

Instructing women how to “behave” so they can be successful leaders is a form of sexism—and it’s one we often forget about. Granted, tips on how to be successful for any individual are useful and have a place. But, it’s those female-focused tips that can sometimes do more damage than good.

For example this article, “How to be Successful in Leadership Positions for Women” by Herminia Ibarra in the Harvard Business Review makes some excellent points. It addresses the many ways that women are expected to go above and beyond the expectations placed on their male counterparts in politics and in leadership positions. Ibarra highlights how women in leadership roles are criticized if they are not perfect in both appearance and performance. Simultaneously, she argues, women politicians are expected to “tone it down” so that they don’t seem too harsh. Deemed the “Damned If You Do, Doomed If You Don’t” dilemma, women face many professional challenges that men don’t face—and that’s just before they even get down to the nitty-gritty task of getting the actual work done.

Ibarra is spot on—this double standard is completely unfair and sexist. So what does she suggest women do about it? Ignore it and focus on the job. Consider this quote:

“For instance, in a recent interview with members of Hillary Clinton’s press corps, a veteran reporter said: ‘The story is never what she says, as much as we want it to be. The story is always how she looked when she said it.’

Clinton says she doesn’t fight it anymore; she focuses on getting the job done.”

Well, that’s one way of dealing with things. But time and time again, we’ve seen that simply ignoring sexism in the media and the workplace doesn’t do anything to stop it. In fact, studies show that even slight sexism hurts a woman’s campaign; while confronting sexism helps her campaign win back lost ground.

And the media is the other problem. The “veteran reporter” in the aforementioned quote claims that they would like the story to be about what Clinton says versus how she looks. So why not report on that? The media is not helpless in addressing the sexism of its own content.

So why do we continue to ignore sexism when it does nothing to advance our goals (or anyone else’s for that matter)?

The answer is: we don’t have to. That’s why Name It. Change It. exists and why we want it to help more women to be empowered to confront sexism. Ignoring the sexism in our culture won’t make it go away—and the first place to start is to call out sexist comments aimed at female politicians in our media!


Published by Kate McCarthy on 02/14/2013

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