Just when we think we’ve made a little progress in gender stereotyping…. today’s New York Times hits the trifecta of really stupendous, amazing, retro stereotypes! All on the same day!
What’s the deal with those two pictures up there? The left photo, from the story “Taking Power, Sharing Cereal” shows four powerful men — two Senators (Schumer and Durbin) and two Representatives (Miller and Delahunt) in the house they share in Washington. The right photo, from the story “Speaking Chic to Power” is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Trinity Class of 1962, earlier this week at the White House.
Men! Has there ever been a more stereotypical story of four guys sharing living space? Cereal boxes, fast food wrappers, rodents, discussion of sex/violence/football, lots o’ brewskis in the fridge. I’m surprised they’re not depicted on cell phones saying, “Whassup?” or belching.
Women! Let’s girltalk fashion, St. John’s style, Prada envy, heels ‘n’ hose! Pelosi’s Pearls! Hillary’s Hair!
These people are making life-transforming, history-making decisions for all of us and our nation, and we’re reading about their taste in shoes and Chinese takeout? Is this really “All the News That’s Fit to Print”??
Ok, ok, so it’s fun to know that Senator Schumer, who recently lectured me at the Senate Finance Committee about tuition prices, doesn’t make his bed. And in some delicious, voyeuristic, devil-wears-prada kind of way, I’m fascinated by the thought of a member of Congress (Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz D-FL) surreptitiously surfing the net to find her St. John’s bargains. (Yes, I actually did check out RodeoDriveResale to see what’s available… darn! They just don’t have my colors…!)
But seriously, folks, will we ever get beyond the double standards of contemporary life? Women in power are closely scrutinized for how they look, what they wear, who did their hair, how flawless and easy they can appear to be. Men in power can look like they just rolled out of bed (oh, please, Dick Durbin in boxer shorts?) and they’re given credit for being oh-so-preoccupied with more important things (Florida v. Ohio State was, indeed, serious business!!)
What if the tables were turned? What if the first story was about women who cared more about work than wardrobe, and the other story about men preening? Nah, too edgy…too… gender-bending?
But the third gender story was the most important: “51% of Women are Now Living Without a Spouse” was the headline earlier this week, and remains one of the most e-mailed stories. Many reasons are cited for this phenomenon — later marriage, longer widowhood, more time alone between divorce and remarriage. As well, many more women are just deciding to live independently from the start. The implications of this trend are vastly more significant than the label in Nancy’s suits or the cereal in George Miller’s bowl.
Women have increasingly independent power — politically, socially, economically. But to use this power well for the good of this society, women need to redouble their efforts to break free of all of the gender stereotypes that continue to downplay and obscure women’s capacity for achievement.
Women need to respect and support the diversity of choices we are able to make, rather than enforcing conformity. Some of us wear Adidas, some wear Armani. We all have our own style, but we’re all seeking the same goal: to be taken seriously for our brains and abilities, to have equal opportunities in education and the workplace, to be paid fairly for our work, to hold public office —- even some of the highest offices in the nation.
If Ferragamo shoes help a woman to walk across the marble corridors of the House and Senate chambers more confidently, more power to her. Just don’t make the story about her shoes, please — tell us what she’s accomplished. Measure us by our deeds, not our designers.
PS — those two photos above? Nancy wins, hands down!!