Sunday, March 27, 2011
Each year we get closer to equality, and yet we still take steps back.
This week Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to chip the glass ceiling of American politics, died. Ferraro was the first woman on the Presidential campaign ticket and the first to show that a woman could handle the ferociousness of a presidential campaign. It was an exciting moment in the U.S. which was then, and still is, so far behind other countries in a woman's ability to hold the top political office.
More than twenty five years later Hillary Clinton put major cracks into the glass ceiling with her campaign for President (and I still wish that she had won). As Secretary of State in just 15 months she has out traveled all her predecessors and shown us how strong, smart and wise she really is. Who now could doubt that a woman cannot lead as well or be as effective as any man as President of the U.S? As Hillary said in this week's People magazine (yes even I read People at the barber shop waiting for my son), equality for women is the great project for the 21st century.
But it's two steps forward, one step back. Women are still objectified every day in ways men would not tolerate. Take Bill Maher's reference this week to Barbara Bachmann and Sarah Palin as "two bimbos". Lord knows I hate their politics but just because they are attractive women does the press need to show a continuous gender bias against their intellect?
The bias that women cannot be good looking and smart is so insidious even women do it. Last week at SxSW a tech PR firm, Fresh Ink, put out cards with tips for giving speeches, including “A speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the topic, yet short enough to be interesting.”
Violet Blue's opinion piece in ZDNet said it all. It's sexist, offensive and an attitude that continues to set us back. The women led PR firm responded to the criticism with a blog post that attributes the quote to Winston Churchill and that we should not take ourselves as women so seriously. Seriously!? PR is still a pink ghetto and I coach young women not to go into PR because they'll never get back out to a line management position on the path the C-suite.
I do believe that, in the moment of sexist behavior towards me, humor is the best way for me to defuse it, but our society is still so gender biased it horrifies me that women would perpetuate the attitude themselves. As Violet said: "But tech (and tech media) is still an old boy’s network. And if you think it’s not, then you’re not paying attention."
We need a woman to win the Presidency and smash the highest glass ceiling , just as we need more women CEOs and more women in the board room. And as a society we need to put gender bias behind us - it demeans us all.