I’m at a conference this weekend, so while I’m out, go read Joanne Lipman’s interesting commentary in The New York Times today, “The Mismeasure of Woman.” (H/t to Indyanna for alerting me.) Lipman writes, “[c]ertainly, when you look at the numbers, women have made tremendous strides over the past 25 years. But in the process, we lost sight of something important. After focusing for so long on better jobs and higher pay, maybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too.” She traces the decline in women’s status to 9/11 and the simultaneous rise of rampant misogyny on the web. (There may be a causal link there, or just a correlation–Lipman doesn’t say, and I’m hard pressed to try to disentangle the two phenomenae.) “The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream.”
I’m glad the status of women in American society is getting attention in the opinion pages of the Times, but her prescriptions seem like extremely weak tea. (Well, she was a magazine editor–even so, these are surprising for their glibness.) For example:
- “First, we can begin by telling girls to have confidence in themselves, to not always feel the need to be the passive ‘good girl.’ In my time as an editor, many, many men have come through my door asking for a raise or demanding a promotion. Guess how many women have ever asked me for a promotion? I’ll tell you. Exactly … zero. Sure, it’s a risk to ask for a raise. But women need to take risks — and to realize that at some point they will fail.” Do women “lack confidence” in themselves, or are they screamed at and/or ritually humiliated every time they go off-script and do something manly like ask for raises? This sounds like more of the “ask, and ye shall receive” advice of which I am so dubious.
- “[H]ave a sense of humor. Believe me, it’s needed.” Seriously? She makes what I thought was a jab at herself and her so-called “post-feminist” friends in college at the beginning of the article: “When I was in college in the 1980s, many of us looked derisively at the women’s liberation movement. That was something that strident, humorless, shrill women had done before us. We were sure we were beyond it.” Now, I’m not so sure she’s mocking her naivete as beating the dead horse of the “Soviet” era of feminism.
- “One final suggestion: don’t be afraid to be a girl. Women do have a different culture from men. And that can give us some tremendous advantages. Women are built to withstand hardship and pain. (Anyone who has given birth knows what I’m talking about.) That’s a big benefit at a time like this, with the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent and rising.” Whaaaaa? Separate spheres, refreshed and ready for the twenty-first century? And, did she really just use this valuable media real estate to write the sentence, “[a]nyone who has given birth knows what I’m talking about.” I don’t think there is a textual way for me to indicate exactly how far back into my head my eyes rolled when I read that one.
Your thoughts, friends?
Something tells me that when this valentine to Michelle Obama is published on the same day as Lipman’s comments, we’re not going to get very far. Charles Blow writes, “Mrs. Obama is redefining my concept of a first lady, and I like it. Apparently, I’m not alone.” Redefining his concept of a first lady? Please. Obama is a first lady in the tradition of Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Pat Nixon, Lady Bird Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, Mamie Eisenhower, and on into the past (excepting those bossy speedbumps Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Eleanor Roosevelt!) There is the excitement of her relative youth, which Blow suggests as he rhapsodizes over her rope-jumping (wow!). Having lived through the 1990s and seen what happened to Hillary Clinton, and having young children in the White House with her, I think Obama is only being prudent because of our recent revival of endemic misogyny that Lipman describes. But, let’s not call Obama a break with the past, or a terribly innovative first lady. She isn’t, because she clearly doesn’t want to be.