when pigs fly … expect the unbelievable

Archive for December 2008

In Lois Frankel’s book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (2004), she talked about “polling” as a business practice that women should jettison. She tells the story of a woman who was not considered for a promotion in a Fortune 500 company because the word on the street was that she wouldn’t be decisive enough.

What the woman had been doing was “polling” her colleagues before she made decisions in her current position.  Frankel says that women do that on the front end in order to avoid confrontation on the back end.  Perhaps that’s true.  I think that women are simply communicative and open to discussion, but I admit that it can make us look unsure.

The other side of the coin, though, is that when women act independently, they are cavalier; when men act independently they are decisive, hard-charging businessmen.  Once again it is the politics of socialization that we become acquainted with long before we take our first steps.

Seeking input is slightly different from polling.   While polling is “what do you think about….?”, seeking input is more like “I’m going to do this unless you can give me a good alternative that I perceive as a better solution….”  Don’t seek approval, but certainly look for better ideas.

That’s not polling.  That is broadening your perspective.  And that’s a good thing.

I was at the Don Caesar Resort last November where I met a very attractive black woman, just a big younger than I.  We were attending the same conference and had the opportunity t make some small talk.  As we shared life histories, I found out she was raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and that her mom and dad had been involved with the bus boycott organized by SCLC after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery transit bus.

This wonderful woman gave me a child’s eye view of the Montgomery bus boycott.  As many of you with children know, a child’s perspective is often sharp.  And my friend shared her child’s eye rememberence:  “Momma said that the heros of the Modntgomery bus boycott were the women who lived in the Country Club section of Montgomery.  They got tired of going to the “colored” section of town to pick up and take home their maids.  And after they got tired, they got sick and tired of it.  And after they got sick and tired of it, they made their husbands end the boycott!”

Could it be that white women were instrumental in the desegregation of the Montgomery transit authority?  Certainly they were not the initiators of the desegregation movement, but every movement needs a nudge now and then, and from this woman’s mother’s perspective, those women who put their collective feet down may have expedited the process.

An interesting thought from a child’s eye view of the Montgomery bus boycott…some 50 years later.  An interesting through about women impelling social movement forward little by little…

Do you remember 1962? Were you reading Esquire at the time? Probably not, if you are reading this, but you never know. Esquire, in its July 1962 special issue, “The American Woman”, made a big joke about a woman president. I share this from Ruth Rosen’s The World Split Open.

Much to their amusement, men opened the July 1962 issue of Esquire magazine to discover that a middle-aged Caroline Kennedy had won the most recent presidential election. According to the story, crowds of women cheered as the youthful and charismatic politician assumed her fifth term in office. Apparently, when women usurped power in the early years of the twenty-first century, one of their first acts was to abolish the two-term presidency. Then, they rewrote history, substituting Eleanor Roosevelt for FDR….Now, the article reported, men crept cautiously around “women’s bars” from which they were legally excluded. They dressed decoratively, spoke softly, lest they displease women and incite their wrath and violent retribution.

Kennedy had won the 1960 election, barely. He knew how much women had helped him win, and acknowledgement came in the form of the creation of a Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. The Washington Post reported the new commission on December 15, 1961, in its “For and About Women” section. The New York Times found a place for the announcement between book reviews and the “Contract Bridge” column.

Kennedy appointed a commission, but that’s about all. He appointed no women to his cabinet. He appointed no women to the U. S. Supreme Court. But by the creation of the commission, he raised the specter of women becoming more active in politics and society generally, an idea that did not sit well with many men of the 60s.

The World Split Open, by Ruth Rosen, was published in 2000 by Penguin Putnam, Inc., NY NY.

Kate Millett, in her seminal work, Sexual Politics [1970] initiated a discussion of patriarchal power and sexual socialization in America. Millett was the first to popularize the concept of gender as different from sex. The distinction, as she portrays it, is dynamic. Sex is, you see, biological, while gender is societal. Sex is innate; gender is convention.

It’s really so simple. Sex, generally speaking, cannot be changed. Convention – how civilized society responds to the sex of an individual – can be changed. Convention is attitudinal and attitudes are subject to change.

Webster’s defines convention as “usage or custom, especially in social matters; a rule of conduct or behavior”. Societal customs with which we abide in civil society are customs that have evolved from years and years of patriarchal power. They are customs developed when the roles and rules for men and women were very different. And they are no longer appropriate in the 21st century.

Many of us, particularly those of us who grew up in the South, have some pretty ingrained fall-back positions on a great many things. For example, I simply refuse to wear white shoes before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, and I will never wear velvet prior to Thanksgiving or after St. Valentine’s Day. Why? Well, those are the rules of polite society – as every member of the Fashionis′ta Polic′ia certainly knows. But when I sit back and evaluate these fashion rules that I live by, do they make any sense at all?

We live by many social conventions equally as arcane or impractical; numerous of these conventions subtly or not so subtly place women in a less powerful position than men – not because of ability but because of convention. Not because of sex, but because of gender.

It is important to examine conventions that we hold dear for the ways in which they may perpetuate men’s power positions in society and the way they may perpetuate the diminution of power of women. This examination not only benefits women, but men as well. Men who have continued to read this far may not readily fathom what convention has done to them, but in many ways convention has subjugated men in as poisonous way as it has subjugated women.

We know that there are clearly differences between men and women. Some are hot-wired differences; some are convention. Most of the differences that we appreciate so clearly in American society are not of the hot-wired variety. Applying convention to society, we can examine a clearly binary system:

individualism nurturance

engineered naturally procreative

reason intuition

science nature

creation of goods provision of services

exploitation conservation

classical romantic

political domestic

public private

Were you confused as to which list of characteristics describes female characteristics versus which describes male characteristics? Of course not! While you may not agree with the oppositional concepts, you cannot deny that these constructs identify us in very particular and yet universal ways. The power and significance of these constructs is implicit in the conventions which govern our lives and shape America’s political, economic and ideological hierarchy. These conventions shape the everyday social structures [language, media, education, religion, violence, for example] that create, define and perpetuate our personal identities.

An op-ed piece in Australia’s XY: Men, Sex Politics magazine is an eye-opener. In 1995, the author noted that on the surface sexism and feminism seem relevant only to women – women who miss out on jobs or promotions, who suffer wolf-whistles or unwanted sexual advances, who are under-represented in politics, whose bodies are objectified in pornography and the media. Moreover, it is the conventional use of the male pronoun “he” in our language patterns that makes women invisible even our mother tongue.

Clearly it is the “other sex” — the “he” among us, who participates in the workforce and in politics to a greater degree than do women. It is the “he” among us who is often the wolf-whistler and the perpetrator of the unwanted sexual advance. It is the “he” who owns a pronoun that – in our English language usage – means everyone, or at least everyone important. No wonder, when we consider it in this way, that we could conclude with the op-ed writer, that “[m]en have a vested interest in perpetuating the existence of gender inequalities, of sexism, because [men] gain a lot from them….power, privilege, prestige and an entire group of people that [men] can feel superior to: women.”

Please understand, I’m not man-bashing here. I’m speaking not about the wonderful, self-actualized men I know; I’m speaking globally about America’s sexual politics. But centuries of men have grown up understanding that they can exercise power over women, that patriarchal power is natural and that it can’t be changed.

Patriarchal power is not power at all. It is convention. It is attitudinal. It can be changed.

But challenging gender biases will not be effective until both women and men are engaged. How can you be engaged?

· Pay attention to your own behavior. What might you do inadvertently to perpetuate gender bias?

· Engage in mind-bending activities. Search the web for feminist articles – just to listen to what articulate women are saying on the issue.

· Challenge the sexist or gender biased attitudes of others. You can challenge others without aggression. You can simply say: “This offends me. It demeans women.” That’s all you need to say. No argument, no tension. Just a calm, purposeful statement.

Of course, before you can be engaged in these ways, you must seriously contemplate how much of social convention you buy into – how much of social convention you can jettison from your everyday life. You may feel about the gender biased social convention that you have been taught since childhood much like I feel about white shoes before Memorial Day. It’s an attitude, but it’s not going to change!

The latest census data tells us that the number of women in the United States exceed the number of men – not only the total number, but in every age group. Thus, we can conclude that the number of voting-age women exceeds the number of voting-age men, probably by about 3 or 4 million. If women got their ducks in a row, they could rule the world!

The world is, alas, too complicated; and women are too complicated. Unlike the far left and right tangential wings of each party, women are not one-issue mavens. It is not all about the war, or abortion, or electing Hillary. There are many, many things that motivate women to vote. But despite the complexity of issues, there is a documented gender gap in American politics.

Exit polls in 2006 reflected that a majority of women in the states of Missouri, Montana and Virginia voted for the democratic candidate for senate. And in each of these races, the democrats maintained these senate seats. In Missouri, 51% of women and 45% of men voted for Democrat Claire McCaskill. In Montana, 52% of women and 48% of men voted for Democrat Jon Tester. In Virginia, 55% of women and 45% of men voted for Democrat Jim Webb. Susan Carroll, a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University opined: “The exit polls [Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International] provide compelling evidence that Democrats would not be in control of Congress after the 2006 election without strong support from women voters.”

A gender gap in voting refers to a difference between the percentage of women and the percentage of men voting for a given candidate, generally the winning candidate. Even when men and women favor the same candidate, they may do so by different margins, resulting in a gender gap. The 2006 U.S. Congressional election is not the first election in which the gender gap was noticeable. It has been apparent in every federal election since 1980. In the 2004 presidential election, according to the same pollsters, the gap was evident in almost all segments of the electorate – across different demographic categories – accounting for over 7% of the votes cast. In other words, across all categories of voters, 7% fewer women voted for George W. Bush than men.

In the last two decades, the gender gap in presidential elections has stayed around the 7 to 8% mark. The average difference in percentage points between men and women voters during these years is 7.7%. In 2004 it was 7%; in 2000 it was 10%. In that election 43% of women and 53% of men voted for President Bush.

Researchers at Rutgers have noticed that, compared with men, women are more likely to

  • Favor an activist role for government;
  • Oppose military intervention by their government in other countries;
  • Favor programs that support health care and basic human needs;
  • Favor restrictions on firearms;
  • Favor affirmative action and efforts to achieve racial equality.

This list, itself, demonstrates the fact that women are not one-issue mavens. As you compare your own positions with those that more women are likely to share than men, you will find that you probably have one or more disagreements with positions that more women than men favor or oppose.

Many of us were frustrated with hanging chads – a physical impetus for us to re-consider the Electoral College. I admit that I am less than enchanted with the Electoral College, which, in many ways seems capable of thwarting the will of the governed by not relying on the popular vote. While watching the post-mortem of the 2000 election and considering the fact that the popular vote did not elect the president, did you stop to think: Does my vote really matter?

Each of our votes matter, in more or less dramatic ways. For example, In the 1829 election for the U. S. House of Representatives in Kentucky’s 2nd district, Jackson Democrat Nicholas Coleman defeated National Republican Adam Beatty by one vote. In the 1847 election for the U. S. House of Representatives in Indiana’s 6th district, Whig candidate George G. Dunn defeated Democratic candidate David M. Dobson by one vote. In that same year in the 3rd district of Virginia race, Whig Thomas S. Flournoy defeated Democrat Treadway by one vote. In the 1854 election to the U. S. House of Representatives in the 7th district of Illionis, Democratic candidate James C. Allenbested defeated Republican William B. Archer by one vote. In the 1882 election for U. S. House of Representatives in the 1st district of Virginia, Readjuster candidate Robert M. Mayo defeated Democrat George T. Garrison by one vote.

One vote margins occur in state elections, too. In 1977 Vermont State Representative Sydney Nixon was seated as an apparent one vote winner. A recount determined that he had, in fact, lost by one vote to Robert Edmond, who was then seated. In 1989, a Lansing, Michigan school bond issue produced a tie, denying the district the revenue sought in the bond issue. In 1994, Republican Randall Luthi and Independent Larry Call tied for a seat in the Wyoming House of Representative from the Jackson Hole area. A recount reproduced the tie. Mr. Luthi was declared the winner when, in a drawing before the Wyoming State Canvassing Board, a Ping Pong ball bearing Luthi’s name was pulled from the cowboy hat of Wyoming’s Democratic Governor at the time, Mike Sullivan.

The fact is that each of us can make a difference individually, and as a gender, should women ever decide to assert ourselves as a group, we can make not only a difference, but an impact!

Think about that when you go to the polls. Think about that the next time you get a hankering to make an impact.

Fact Sheets on the Gender Gap are available from the Center for American Women and Politics, www.cawp.rutgers.edu.

A note to users of our fact sheets: Please credit the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP),

Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University.

© COPYRIGHT 2005. Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). 03/05

cawp/info services/Fact Sheets/Fact2005/GG_PresVoting(03-


December 2008
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