Women and politics

The US presidential race is heating up long before it should… and thanks to the serious candidacy of one H. Clinton, the issue of gender roles has been firmly in the limelight.  Those of us who happen to be female but work in male-dominated fields are quite familiar with this week’s snarky criticism of Clinton by Elizabeth Edwards:

“Keeping that door open to women is actually more a policy of John’s than Hillary’s,” she said, suggesting the New York senator may be avoiding women’s issues to “behave as a man.” 

It’s a catch-22, really and truly.  We females can’t make any progress in a male-dominated field without acquiring (or perhaps intrinsically and already exhibiting) a certain set of “male” traits.  We are told to be tough, not to be emotional, certainly never to cry or to exhibit weakness, and in many cases we are encouraged to fall in line with a testosterone-fueled work environment.  We are encouraged to be more male, and in doing so really bad things can happen.  Yet, if we don’t act “male” enough, we are unlikely to succeed.

The differences between male and female archetype personalities–and the fact that the combination thereof brings a richness to life including work environments–is simply not allowed when the field is still dominated by one sex. And certainly, when a woman rises too high in the power game, when she is in a sole position of power and authority, then she becomes open to the sort of comments made above by E. Edwards (who should really know better).

I had a colleague comment to my face this week about the sheer number of women who have failed in my line of work (read: chosen to get out of the testosterone-fueled rat-race, in many cases due to a desire to procreate and actually have time to mother their children).  The comments were issued with the standard throw-away remark, “no offense” but I admit it, I was offended and I typically am.  However, it’s another of those “not allowed” feelings for a female in a male environment: we are to react to “boy talk” just as the men do, even to the point of enduring borderline sexual harassment.

There’s no easy answer here.  I’m glad the idea of a female president is in the spotlight, and I hope Hillary Clinton comes back at Edwards with a mature yet totally devastating response.

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