Related: Catholic issues, Civil & Human Rights, Education, Higher Education, In the Media, Living, Religion, Social Issues, Social Justice Issues, Women, Women's Leadership

Mars, Venus and Nuns on the Bus


Fast on the heels of my last blog “When Women Fail” about the potential consequences of the University of Virginia controversy for women leaders in academe, an excellent article published yesterday by Keven Carey in the The New Republic includes this observation:

“It’s also hard to ignore the role of gender in these events. I have briefly met, or at least been in the same room with, both Sullivan and her predecessor, John Casteen. (Both occasions were private meetings of small higher education task forces to which I was asked to testify.) Casteen is the picture of a classic university president in appearance and affect, a tall white man of distinguished age who spoke with total confidence and authority, verging on arrogance. Sullivan was more of a listener, offering constructive commentary while letting others have their say. She is also a matronly woman of 62 who doesn’t evoke simple-minded visions of “bold leadership” in the management-consulting, advertisement vein.”

Ouch.  “Matronly” — a polite euphemism for stout and old.  The man is “tall” — a euphemism for slim — and of “distinguished age” meaning that he’s old, but in a good way.  Appearance — heightedness, roundedness, grayness, whiteness — all affect how people perceive leaders, but perhaps no appearance other than color is so significant as gender.  A woman is old, a man is distinguished; a woman is fat, a man is tall.

Mars and Venus rise in high contrast in this year so full of political, religious, academic and social news of gender wars and high stakes for the future of women’s rights.

“Where Have All the Women Gone?” is Libby Nelson’s article in that illustrates the rising number of men in presidencies of Catholic colleges where women — mostly religious sisters — used to dominate.  Nationally, women are only about 23% of all colleges presidents, despite the fact that women are nearly 60% of all college students.  Women’s leadership horizons continue to be repressed not only in academe but in many major industries.  A review of any “top earners” list shows very few women, and sometimes none, among the CEO’s at the top of the pay scales.

An article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic Magazine makes the case, “Why Women Can’t Have It All.”  Slaughter, formerly a high-ranking State Department official with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has sparked a fierce online debate about whether women are self-limiting or victims of continued discrimination.  (More on that in future blogs.)  Whatever we might think of the arguments, we do know that if women don’t help themselves, our slim progress thus far will grind to a halt. Sure, we all know many men who are committed to women’s equality, but if we don’t want it, why would they be our advocates?

I’ve been thinking about the ongoing Mars-Venus contrasts in relation to the many controversies involving the Catholic Church these days.  A week or so ago, the online front page of the National Catholic Reporter carried synopses of two different stories about the meeting at the Vatican concerning the inquiry into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  I took a screen shot of these two items stacked one atop the other:

There we have it.  The top headline reads, “Vatican Official warns of ‘dialogue of the deaf’ with LCWR.”  The bottom headline states, “LCWR leader:  Meeting with Vatican an opportunity for dialogue.”

Mars and Venus met at the Vatican.  Did anyone hear anything?  Archbishop Levada’s phrase “dialogue of the deaf” can describe a lot of conversations between men and women, and usually, both sides believe that it’s the other one who’s not listening.

Mars and Venus are all over the news this week as the bishops kick-off the “Fortnight of Freedom” campaign for religious liberty while somewhere in the heartland “Nuns on the Bus” are tackling the egregious injustices in Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget.  The parallels between these two movements — one defending the rights of Catholics to be Catholic, the other putting Catholic social justice into action on behalf of the poor and all people who will suffer grave harm if the Ryan budget passes — certainly demonstrates that religious liberty is alive and well in our nation.  It does seem like the best way to defend religious liberty is to use it vigorously to advocate for those in need.

Mars and Venus need each other, and both would do well to find common ground.  And women, in particular, need to beware of their own self-limiting behaviors.  When women opt-out, undermine each other, or mistakenly believe that talk is real dialogue, the small advances toward gender equality backslide.

See my Huffington Post blog on the UVA issues and governance “Run It Like a Business?  Really?”

Follow me on Twitter @TrinityPrez


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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