Saturday, October 24, 2009

More on women's "stalled progress"

The Judith Warner column that was the subject of my blog post yesterday discussed the so-called Shriver Report. In that post, I referred to it as a recent publication by the Center for American Progress.

Now Joanne Lipman's op-ed in the New York Times discusses the same report, drawing some conclusions similar to those of Warner. For example, both Lipman and Warner observe that the report's title, "A Woman's Nation Changes Everything" is mis-leading--mis-leadingly positive, that is. Lipman, whose piece is currently the second most emailed item on the New York Times website, writes, "progress for women has stalled ... attitudes have taken a giant leap backward."

She goes on to talk about "her generation," often referred to as third-wave feminists or the post-feminist generation, who took a lot for granted and "derided the women's liberation movement" as "strident, humorless." She recounts details of her own career, some negative, some positive. Among the negative was dressing the part of the journalist she became: "out-machoing the men with our truly tragic wardrobe choices — boxy suits with giant shoulder pads and floppy bow ties." Among the positive was her promotion to deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal--a first for a woman--while she was pregnant. Then she observes:
And yet during the last few years, I couldn’t help but notice that the situation for women as a whole wasn’t improving, and was even getting worse.
She provides many examples to support her conclusion, and I encourage you to read the entire column. Then, however, she gets down to her assessment of "why" (including some interesting links to 9/11 that I won't go into here):
Part of the reason we’ve lost our way, part of the reason my generation became complacent, is that many of us have been defining progress for women too narrowly. We’ve focused primarily on numbers at the expense of attitudes. ... We’ve got to include popular perceptions in the equation as well.
By perceptions, Lipman refers, for example, to the "witch" and "bimbo" problem. Women--especially successful women--are portrayed as one, the other or--BONUS--both!

Lipman's recommendations for change--and for what each woman can do--are even more interesting. Here are some highlights:
  • "First, we can begin by telling girls to have confidence in themselves, to not always feel the need to be the passive 'good girl'.” This means, Lipman says, asking for a raise. It means taking risks. (This reminds me of an earlier, very popular column that appeared in the NYT, but written by a younger woman. Read my post here).
  • Second, "have a sense of humor ... it's needed."
  • Third, "[d]on't be afraid to be a girl."
I am not sure I agree entirely with the third point, which Lipman elaborates, in part, "women have a different culture from men." But I do like her closing comment, which comes back to culture and something other than numerical indicators that suggest women's lot has so improved in recent decades:
[M]aybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too.If we can change the conversation about women, the numbers will finally add up.
That, Lipman suggests, will look like "real progress."

1 comment:

Naomi said...

I am interested in the bimbo - witch dichotomy just as much as the dyke - whore dichotomy I mentioned in a previous post. Why is it that these terms arise and we are labeled as either one or the other or, as you remarked, both? Plus, these terms are applicable only to women. There is no term for a male witch... maybe an a**-h***? No term for a bimbo, because being a body-builder or a muscle man is a good thing for a man. No such thing as a slut / whore, because men are known instead as "players" or "pimps" when they display promiscuous sexual behaviors. And even being gay as a man does not seem as bad a term as being labeled a "dyke" or a "lesbo". The very words that our vocabulary consists of denigrate women and raise men. How can we change the way people think about women without changing the words they use to describe them? A major vocabulary overhaul is obviously necessary, but how do we get the words to catch on? My fear is that the words themselves will be labeled "politically correct" and thus with another pejorative term be rendered toothless and useless.