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.
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.
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.
Labels: Construction, Extreme Makover: Home Edition, Feminist Manifesto, Hillary Rodham Clinton, let's kill all the lawyers, NAWIC, Paige Hemmis, Sexism, Sexual Objects, Women