Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Where Feminism Failed

I consider myself a really good feminist - Not to brag, but I wrote what has been called "a classic feminist fairy tale," The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet.  I founded a chapter of NOW in my little town in the early '70s.  I spoke to the Kiwanis, on the radio, to a committee in the Ohio House about sexist language, I did seminars on sexist language.  And so on.  And overall, I'm disappointed in what it has led to.

I certainly don't mean I'm disappointed in the expanded opportunities we got for women.  When I was in school, there were no girls' or womens' sports, except gymnastics, an occasional diver. By the time my daughter was in high school, she could be and was on a mixed swim team.  There is talk now of accepting women into training that would let them lead infantry into combat, no different than men.  I think the statistics look good for a lot of things that were once taboo, and there are more women in technical and scientific fields.  Single women can have babies or adopt them, and raise them.  Without being married, ever.

But what I see around me is that in a pervasive general way, women have failed to get it.  It goes like this:  If you are cute and silly and talk with a little lisp and go around the office in 5-inch heels with cleavage showing, people are not going to give you the respect they automatically give a man.  You'll have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously.

You could blame Dr. Lisa Cuddy on House for this.  I am a great fan of House and Hugh Laurie, in particular, and I watch it.  But I never fail to shake my head and mutter at Dr. Cuddy's clothes.  Skirts that fit like a snake's skin.  Boobs falling out of her top.  Stiletto heels.  No. I don't believe it. You just don't become Dean of Medicine dressing like that. But then, a doctor can't go around looking like Gregory House, either.  A woman who had ambition would figure that out.  Her mentor would tell her.

Ladies, wake up.  If you present yourself as an eternally young and cute sex object, you will not be admired for your mind or your competency.  You can't do it both ways at once.  You can run around dressed to incite lust on the weekends, maybe, depending on how much you run across your boss.  But in the world of work, dress to be respected.  I deeply believe that women who respect themselves can still find love. I know it.

Below, how a successful doctor looks in real life. 

This is Dr. Nancy Snyderman with some guy (okay, it's Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric).  Notice that she, in fact, looks a little more professional than him, with her pearls. I guess a CEO can get away with not wearing a tie these days.  Dr. Nancy often appears on the NBC nightly news, well-spoken, knowledgeable, attractive, feminine, but not cute or sexy.

Maybe Dr. Nancy once read Dress for Success.  Following on the feminism of the 60s and 70s, there was a vogue for women wearing suits and nice blouses with bows or silk ties. I still have a couple of those ties, too nice to get rid of, though they don't go very well with yoga pants and tennis shoes - I'm old, that's different.

In closing, an illustrative example.  Some time ago a mature woman joined my church.  Right away people started dropping her name as someone who could be on the board, things like that.  As I explored it a little I found that she'd never done anything in the church.  Anything.  Why did people think she was competent?  I'm convinced it's because she always wore a suit or tailored jacket, and they were nice clothes, too.  She looked professional.  As long as she didn't open her mouth, nobody would ever suspect otherwise.

I know, the world shouldn't work that way.  Wouldn't it be nice if nobody judged each other on our looks and how we dress?  Yes.  If I ever find that utopia, I'll be sure to let you know.


  1. We have eyes, therefore we judge appearances. I enjoyed reading this very much, Jeanne, because I've never quite understood "cutesy and stupid" anyway. It takes a woman a long way, but it takes her the WRONG way. It's like walking backwards, but getting paid to do it.

    1. Karen - Well said. I think judging by appearances is primal - humans are very vulnerable animals, and as such we size up our environment for threats constantly. And should, I guess. But pandering to someone else's ideal - well, there's just no style to it.

  2. Hello! I really liked your post. I think that you are right that women exploit (and are exploited for) their 'beauty' or sexuality, especially in the workplace. It is indeed unfortunate that some people, both women and men, can't be more professional. I like the example you gave with Dr. Snyderman!

    Another thing that I think was also an unfortunate outcome of feminism (in America, at least) was that in many cases the initial noble responses to real injustices turned to words and actions performed out of hatred towards men. True equality cannot be achieved when reasoning -and relationships- are poisoned by anger and hatred.

    Thanks again for your great post - it was informative for me!

    May you be well!

    1. Renata - I also found man-hatred very distressing. I had a wonderful department head during the early seventies, who was a rape victim and an ardent feminist. I remember my shock when she made a demeaning reference to a student of mine who was in ROTC, "him and his little mustache." Ouch. When I told her that made me uncomfortable, she said something about there being so much woman-hatred, we have to counter it sometimes with our own aggression.

      Much later she became an equally strong Buddhist - I actually saw a photo of her holding hands with the Dalai Lama. Yes! I'm sure she must have learned the words, "Hatred is never overcome by hatred, but by love alone."

    2. Wow! That is an amazing story of what looks like a great transformation and change of heart. Thank you for sharing that with me!

    3. Thank you, Renata. I'm glad to be taken back to my comment and remember my friend, a lovely woman who was always kind to me.