Friday, February 22, 2008

Holding the controls or holding hands?

Ellen Goodman had a spot-on column today that zeroed in on the ironic nature of the Hillary-vs.-Obama race: as a man, Obama is "allowed" to act more conciliatory without losing the aura of leadership (read: masculinity), while as a woman, Hilary has to show she's tough , but in so doing she loses some perceived sensitivity (read: femininity). Goodman quotes a female political scientist who notes that "He's being more feminine than she can be. She is in a much tighter box" and that research shows "how hard it still is for a woman to be seen as both competent and likable."

Goodman concludes: "Now we see a woman running as the fighter and a man modeling a 'woman's way' of leading. We see a younger generation in particular inspired by ideas nurtured by women, as long as they are delivered in a baritone. So, has the women's movement made life easier? For another man?"

If she's right, does this mean sexism is alive and well, and that a woman can never be president in America? And if so, why has this not been the case in countries including England, India, Germany, the Philippines, etc.? Are those societies all less sexist than America's? I really don't know. It just goes back to the freedom or pressure, depending on your viewpoint, for women to "have it all" in America, starting with the work-vs-stay-home-with-the kids balancing act, where we feel guilty no matter what. Meanwhile, I was stunned to read that Michelle Obama has been characterized (I don't know by whom) as "emasculating." Is this because she's an outspoken woman? Or because she's outspoken, female, and black, with the added insinuation of racism (where "emasculating" is a code word for "uppity as well as bitchy")?

Three cheers for the women's movement. Now we can be scorned for succeeding in getting what both women and men supposedly want. Remember the old Enjoli ad? "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan -- and never never let you forget you're a man!"

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