I am the dominant earner in my household. My wonderful life partner/spouse of 25 years is a talented artist. I am a successful consultant, and consultants generally make more than artists in our society. My life partner and I have always been fine with our financial relationship, but I remember when his father was still alive and would yell into the phone from the background, “Tell that bum to get a job!” He could not stand it that I made more money than his son. This lack of moral support was very painful for us both, especially for my partner. We were trying to stay grounded in the choices that made sense for us in the face of societal attitudes about acceptable gender roles—and this was sometimes difficult.
I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services.
Misogyny is a difficult and important concept to understand if we are to grasp many of the challenges that women face in politics and in the workplace. One source of confusion is that misogyny is actually an umbrella term that encompasses multiple concepts such as sexism, patriarchy, gender-based oppression, and internalized oppression. Both women and men participate in perpetuating the misogynistic attitudes, behaviors, and practices motivated by hatred or distrust of women. Such concepts are largely unconscious in individuals and often institutionalized in the policies and practices of organizations and societal institutions. I wrote about some post-election examples of misogynistic behaviors in a recent article.
Decades of research show that women make a difference in elected office. Women do govern differently, yet we are losing representation in the United States. Claire Cain Miller, writing for the New York Times, reports these results of the November 2016 election:
- The number of female governors dropped from six to five.
- The number of women in Congress stayed the same at 104, or 19 percent of the seats in the House and Senate. One seat was gained in the Senate and one lost in the House.
- Thirteen states will send no women to the new 115th Congress.
Women in the United States struggled many years to win the right to vote, and we still have not been able to win the presidency. At least fifty-two other countries in the world have had a female head of state—some countries multiple times—but we have not. Hillary Clinton’s recent run was not successful, but she took us one more step along a very long journey for women in the United States.
Gretchen Carlson went public about the sexual harassment she endured from Roger Ailes as an employee of Fox News and got Roger Ailes fired. Carlson did not agree to stay silent when offered a settlement as part of a nondisclosure agreement, and she got fired. It took courage to go public, and, subsequently, many women have come forward to tell their previously undisclosed stories of sexual harassment. In her article in the New York Times, Carlson notes that, according to the National Women’s Law Center, “almost half of all women have been sexually harassed at work. And those are the ones who have been brave enough to reveal it.” In a previous article, I explain why sexual harassment is still so prevalent in the workplace.
I have been designing and facilitating women’s leadership-development programs for more than twenty-five years, and I always include a segment on misogyny. I begin by asking for participants to raise their hands if they have heard the term misogyny before—usually no one has, until this year. This fall, when I asked the question, almost every woman in the audience raised her hand and knew the definition: having or showing a hatred or distrust of women. The women in my most recent program were from the whole spectrum of political ideologies, but this year’s election campaign elevated both the term misogyny (which is not really a new word but had almost disappeared from use) and awareness of the behaviors associated with it to the level of national discourse. Misogyny has always been with us, but we often didn’t see it, had become numb to it, or did not have a name for it. This election campaign brought misogynistic attitudes and behaviors to the surface and out in the open.
Does watching Mika Brzezinski get constantly interrupted by Joe Scarborough every morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe make you as angry as it makes me? And, yes, I do know that Scarborough interrupts all of his guests, but Brzezinski is his coanchor and often the only woman at the political round-table discussions hosted by the show. I often find watching how she is interrupted, talked over, and disregarded so upsetting that I have to turn the show off. She is smart and has a lot to say, but she is continually not allowed to make her points.
Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, a new book by Washington and Lee University professor Ellen Mayock, is focused on academia but offers understanding of and solutions to gender-based discrimination in all types of organizations. Mayock’s core concept of “shrapnel” is especially intriguing. She explains that “shrapnel” describes the regular insults and slights that build up over time and inflict real damage. While the meaning of the term “shrapnel” is similar in this context to the term “microaggressions,” frequently used in dialogues about the impact of racism, I find shrapnel to be more accurate in describing the potential seriousness of the injuries inflicted by subtle discrimination. Whether it refers to gender or race or is used to describe other group-level discrimination, it is an equally useful concept.
I am the survivor of both sexual assault and rape, and I understand all too well the high cost, or tax, that women pay for being treated as sexual objects. I experienced sexual assault as a child, an adolescent, a young woman, and a middle-aged woman. I have never talked about most of these experiences, but I believe that women now need to speak out to make it clear that disrespecting women is a real problem, not just “locker room talk.” Sexual assault and violence are serious problems all over the world and not small problems in our country. Amanda Taub of the New York Times reports the following: