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3/17/2008
Sexism: This is What Hillary Clinton is up Against
Sometimes I live in a little bubble. A comfortable little bubble with no overt racism, sexism, or even social conservatism. I'm surrounded by people who think like me. I read blogs of mostly people who think like me politically. (With a few awesomely wonderful exceptions. You know who you are!) I may make forays into the non-like minded blogging world, but it's usually just to keep abreast of what anti-Liberal propaganda is floating around out there.

I like to think there is a little more air in my bubble than, say, George W. Bush's. But sometimes I wonder if I'm just as out of touch with reality. In this case, a woman's reality.

My parents taught me, like so many other girls of my generation, that I could do anything or be anything. My gender was never an issue.

As a little girl, I played soccer on a team full of boys. I played tee ball and baseball on a team full of boys. I joined a swim team, with girls and boys. I climbed trees; I played flag football; I mowed the lawn. I took advanced math classes; I started out college majoring in Computer Science; I took the hard science classes; I went to law school.

It never mattered that I was a girl and then, a woman.

There were a couple of incidents here and there, but I chalked them up as isolated happenings and not a symptom of the larger world. I clearly recall an argument I had in my college black studies class with a fellow class mate and Male Chauvinist Pig. In our class, our discussions generally started out with race and then moved to our sheltered little college world. Or, we started out talking about our lives and then moved onto race. It was an effective teaching tool and I looked forward to our twice weekly discussions.

On this particular occasion I can't recall how the argument started, but I remember the MCP raising his hand and stating that, of course, a man was far more important to the stability and health of a relationship than a woman was because of the male earning power. He went on to say that a woman wasn't without value but that if he or his future wife wanted someone to stay home with their children, it would be her. Because, of course, Mr. MCP would be making more money.

That was like waiving a red flag in front of a bull.

I raised my hand and retorted that his argument was based on antiquated gender stereotypes, that in my future career I would undoubtedly make more money than my husband (sorry, T.) and that if one of us stayed home it would be him. Did that make *me* more important in our marriage? Then I told the class that if Mr. MCP didn't change his attitude, his importance to a marriage would become a moot point because no one would marry such a blatant misogynist.

I got a standing ovation.

So I assumed that encounters I had with future MCP's were similar and that the rest of the world was cheering me on.

Then I entered the professional world.

Before I headed off to law school, I worked for an insurance company I've mentioned here in the past. I began to notice that most of the lowest level employees were women: the claims processors, the administrative assistants, the clerks. Men who started out in the lower ranking jobs moved up more quickly, with the same experience and education. The vast majority of the upper level supervisors were men.

About this time I also started to deal with something that had happened to me in college and began actually paying attention to the world around me. What I saw was frightening. Girls and women were starving themselves to meet some strange physical ideal. I had friends and co-workers who twisted themselves up inside and completely changed their lives, interests and personalities to make their men happy.

I had begun doing volunteer work in college and, as I became more and more involved with the Violence Against Women program, I began to see what was happening outside of my little bubble. While clearly not everyone was suffering as much as the women I counseled, I saw how our society was hurting all women.

Women had lower salaries, lower expectations and more difficulties in the professional and non-professional world. We live in a "girl poisoning" culture. Sexism is rampant and deeply ingrained into our culture. It may be overt, such as sexual harassment, or it may be as subtle as the magazine covers in the grocery store.

It's there.

Now that I am a lawyer, I work in an area of the law that is dominated by men. I specialize in construction litigation. I have to admit that I enjoy being underestimated by opposing counsel or opposing experts. I've always assumed that it's not because I'm a woman, but because I'm a 5'2" cute woman. I also love that there is never much of a line for the ladies' restroom at the conferences I attend.

I've gone back to pretending that gender doesn't matter because it hasn't overtly affected me.

One of the professional organizations that I belong to is the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). It's purpose is to promote women in the construction field and to break down barriers and eliminate stereotypes. I've been proud to be a member of a professional organization with such an important goal.

Then I received our NAWIC magazine for the month.

In case you can't read it, that headline says "What's hot in Residential Construction." That is Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's Paige Hemmis on the cover in a hardhat, shorts, pink tool belt, a light pink tank top, and hot pink sports bra.

This is what Ms. Hemmis generally wears on her show. I'm sure it is comfortable and, let's face it, the show is on TV for entertainment. I'm sure ABC thinks that Ms. Hemmis is far more entertaining in that get up than in usual construction attire. Although I hope to GOD that none of my clients allow someone dressed like that onto a construction site. Jeans and steel toed boots are safer and more appropriate.

It doesn't annoy me to have Ms. Hemmis on the cover. After all, she is an accomplished woman. She was a certified EMT. She has college degrees in theology and psychology. She is a self-taught carpenter and co-founded Rent to Own Investments, a company that renovates houses and helps develop rent-to-own arrangements for people who can't afford down payments. In her spare time, she races cars.
This is one woman who has it all.

The interview with Ms. Hemmis was nice, as were the additional photos inside the magazine. However, the NAWIC IMAGE editor chose to put the most provocative photo of all on the cover, along with the headline What's hot in Residential Construction. What does that cover say to you?

It doesn't say, "I'm a confident, intelligent, ambitious, ans successful woman in construction." It says, "I'm a pin-up girl who happens to work in construction. Don't I look sexy in my tool belt?" At least that's what it says to me and every other woman in my firm who has seen the cover. In fact, our NAWIC chapter wrote a letter of protest to the editor.

I don't blame Ms. Hemmis. I don't even necessarily blame the magazine editor, who claims that she didn't view the cover in this manner at all. Instead I blame all of us. I blame society. It is second nature to all of us to use sexy instead of competent as a marketing tool. Those of us who accept it are just as guilty. An accomplished woman like Ms. Hemmis is viewed as hot rather than intelligent and capable. And this is from an organization dedicated to eliminating stereotypes and breaking down gender barriers.

With sexism so firmly entrenched in our society, I ask all of you: Does Hillary even stand a chance?

Maybe I'll go back to my bubble now.


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The D.C. Metro Moms are discussing Parenting Guilt today. Pop on over to read all of our posts about guilt and the chance to win Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock's book, Mommy Guilt.

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23 Comments:

Blogger Defiantmuse said...

I worked construction when I was in my early 20s. I remember clearly one day (in August, in LOUISIANA) it was brutally hot. I was wearing long shorts and a t-shirt. But I was going to die I was so friggin' hot. So I took off my t-shirt. I had a sports bra on underneath. About half the construction team (all men) had their shirts off. A week later I got called into a meeting with the boss. He had been informed that I was dressing "inappropriately" at one of the job sites. I called him out on it - why could the men walk around bare-chested but I couldn't wear a sports bra? He said it was sexist but that's just how it is.

Nice.

I don't Hillary does stand a chance. IMHO, I think sexism is much more deeply imprinted upon our society than racism.

Blogger Angela said...

I agree. I don't think she stands a chance. And I kind of fear what would happen if she got the chance as well. Every move she made would be interpreted through that lens. And it isn't men alone who maintain this ignorance....it's women too.

Blogger moosh in indy. said...

I think it's the women who fall back on their sexuality when everything else goes awry that give the rest of us a bad name and allows the stereotypes and assumptions to run uncontrolled.
I do wish Hillary could get a fair shot but it just isn't going to happen. Racism, sexism, hell, even religion. Everybody has a problem with something.
Gah.

OpenID wheelsonthebus said...

What about the commercial for some soda some years back, where the women all asked "Is it time yet?" When it finally was "time," a male construction worker took off his shirt.

I wonder if it goes both ways?

Blogger blooming desertpea said...

I think sexism is burned into society's skin as the brandmark in a bull. And what's worse is that this image is sustained by women just as much - just look at how they dress. Why are women doing that to themselves???

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Emily - The "Lucky" Diet Coke commercial. It immediately popped into my head as well because an old co-worker of mine used to date him!

But the thing is, that commercial worked because it was so different. We're used to seeing sexy women in commercials for things directed towards men. It's commonplace.

I'm not saying that I want this ingrained sexism to work against HRC. I'm not a Hillary hater. I'd love to have her as president. The reason I'm supporting BHO is because I believe he's more electable. Sad, but true. I truly hope that sexism doesn't work against HRC. But it's a burning question in my mind and I think we should all work to change it.

Anonymous Gunfighter said...

OK,

If Hillary didn't/doesn't stand a chance, she wouldn't be running as strng as she is. If this election was about sexism, she would have gone away long since.

All of gthe women who are Governors and Senators, Representatives, and CEO's, and Attorneys, Doctors and police chiefs... all of those women have broken barriers and contiunue to do so.

Sexism, like racism will always be with us... but as we progress, those things will mean less and less.

If you don't believe me, think on this: Could you imagine the Democratis nominating process looking like this 20 years ago?

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Bill, no I couldn't. Not even in my wildest dreams!

But I still think we have a long way to go to eliminate racism and sexism. I don't think the election is about sexism. Nor do I think it's about racism. But I do think both of those "ism's" will play a role in this election. How big a role it will be, I have no idea.

Blogger Jen M. said...

I think that cover shot says it all. We are still most valued for our looks, our sexual prowess, and our youth...period.

As a huge Hillary supporter, I am saddened to say that I don't think our country is ready.

I wish your bubble of childhood and law school experiences would expand to cover all young girls' experiences in our nation. Sadly, you are an exception in many ways. A wonderful one, although I love that you are referred to as "cute" because of your stature - and possibly gender....my husband's boss, a diminutive man, would NEVER be called cute. NEVER. I will email you with his name...

Blogger Jen M. said...

I think that cover shot says it all. We are still most valued for our looks, our sexual prowess, and our youth...period.

As a huge Hillary supporter, I am saddened to say that I don't think our country is ready.

I wish your bubble of childhood and law school experiences would expand to cover all young girls' experiences in our nation. Sadly, you are an exception in many ways. A wonderful one, although I love that you are referred to as "cute" because of your stature - and possibly gender....my husband's boss, a diminutive man, would NEVER be called cute. NEVER. I will email you with his name...

Blogger PunditMom said...

I wish the answer to the question was 'yes.' But after listening to Barack Obama's speech today, I'm convinced it won't happen (notwithstanding my current support for her).

Obama's speech was powerful, but I couldn't help thinking, "What if Hillary or another woman gave a speech that inspiring about why and how gender is still something we can't get past in this country?

And I know whereof you speak -- as an attorney, I was mistaken for the secretary or paralegal many times. At 5'4" and "cute," I was underestimated many times. But that did work to my advantage on occasion in the courtroom when opposing counsel didn't think I was smart enough to figure out their strategies!

Blogger Christine said...

While it would be foolish to argue that sexism and racism don't exist, I would say that Hillary certainly does stand a chance. The Speaker of the House is a woman...as Bill said, there are accomplished women everywhere.

The thing that most concerns me is that if either Hillary and/or Barack don't win, people will claim it's ONLY because of sexism or racism. I think that's a bit of a cop-out.

The other thing I wonder...is this a monthly publication? If so, I assume that this cover is an anamoly, that generally the images aren't sexy as this one is.

I look forward to the day when we can be sexy and powerful...when being HOT isn't antithetical to being strong and smart and a leader.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

I love being sexy. I consider it powerful. It makes me feel powerful, but not in a sex pot kind of way. It just gives me confidence. I think many women feel that way.

This month's cover was an anomaly. A completely inappropriate one, but an anomaly nonetheless. It's hard to make construction "sexy!" LOL!

I completely agree that there are accomplished women out there. But, like the Diet Coke commercial, it's not nearly as common as for the other gender. Of course there are many complicated reasons for that. I just don't think we can simply say "Look, there are many accomplished women/blacks/latinos/gays/lesbians/whatever" and rest on our laurels. We need to keep working. There are still some scarily prejudiced people in this world.

It is very interesting to see how sexism and racism are being played out in this election process. Then again....it's hard to make it not about being a woman or a black candidate...when that is exactly what they are!

Try not to be overwhelmed at my mastery of the obvious! :)

Blogger Elizabeth said...

I am new to your blog, and I really appreciated this post. I can't even count the number of professional magazines that come up with covers like that from time to time, and I find it appalling that nobody even bats an eye. Society is used to viewing women as sex objects, and even the most enlightened people often forget that little things like magazine covers and sexist jokes are indicative of attitudes that are still pervasive throughout society. (I am also a lawyer and work with domestic violence victims, you can just imagine the number of MCPs who cross my path.)

Blogger Christine said...

i think hillary can stand her ground if elected.

that magazine cover annoys the crap outta me.

Running on empty

Anonymous wright said...

Definitely something to think about.

Blogger Gunfighter said...

I can confirm that LM is sexy!

OpenID hippyhappyhay said...

Very interesting! Here in NZ we are onto our second woman PM. Of course we don't get to elect the party leaders, so its a bit different. We just vote for the parties.
Incidently, Helen Clark, our MP, is often reported more for her dress-sense than her political sense. And because she is a woman with no kids, a deep voice and not overly setimental, everyone thinks her marriage is a joke and she's gay.
*sigh*

You can't hear it but I'm giving you a standing ovation.

Right. Now.

Blogger Biggie-Z said...

Found your blog today on a slow work day and I'm adding you to my blogroll.

I sure think Hillary stands a chance - and I hope others think so too.

Geez, that magazine cover is so annoying that I can't even think of anything more to say. I may have to go write my own blog post -not about that, but about our girl poisoning culture. I know, I'm just spluttering here. Love your blog.

LawyerChick

Blogger Mad said...

Here, here, LM. I fall into the "cute" category and I am just pissed most of the time that I have to be slotted into one of the "cute" "sexy" "ugly" or "old and batty" categories in order to do my freakin' job. In a female-intensive profession no less.

And I really hate that no matter how many times it is explained articulately and intelligently (as with this post), people still refuse to see how deeply misogynistic our culture truly is.

Sigh.

Blogger MaybeMBA said...

Boy - you really hit a nerve with this post for me. (And yeah, definitely agree that sexism trumps racism in this country = no Hillary for pres unfortunatley. Grrr.) Anyhow, just discovered your blog - have been debating whether to post on this topic - I hate discussing the gender stuff because I like to pretend it isn't true but as a woman who works in an industry with only 10% women (investment management) - it's definitely in my face on a regular basis.

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