Friday, November 5, 2010

Cracked Ceilings or Broken Doors? (and a Contest)

It’s time for another contest! Please be sure to read to the end of this post to find out how to enter.
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Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to WinDuring this week of the mid-term elections, it seems appropriate to talk about politics, specifically – women in politics.

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to attend a seminar at Columbia University, where journalist and former CNN host Campbell Brown interviewed Anne E. Kornblut, Columbia alum, fellow journalist, and author of Notes From the Cracked Ceiling, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What it Will Take for a Woman to Win.

In Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, Kornblut recounts her days on the road covering Hillary Clinton’s campaign and bid for the Presidential office with amazing clarity and insight. Kornblut neither places blame, nor apologizes for the politicians, journalists, and political advisors that played a part in the process, yet simultaneously demands accountability from all of them. She tells the story of a woman who was thought to be the frontrunner and virtual incumbent, making the choice to run on a platform of toughness and readiness, while her Democratic opponent chose to run on a platform of change, embracing his feminine side and playing the race card.

Kornblut tells the story of a campaign that assumed it had the Democratic female vote, yet lost women voters in droves to Obama. Younger women failed to recognize the significance of a woman becoming President, having grown up to believe they could do anything and believing that a female President was no big deal. Clinton also faced difficulty with professional educated women – women who should have been viewing her as one of them – having lost their support during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I found myself feeling guilty as I read the book, identifying with that latter group that Kornblut described. The fact that Hillary – a woman of considerable resources – stood by her husband when so many women are literally stuck in abusive relationships due to a lack of resources, never sat right with me. And I ask myself… is it right to judge a candidate based on that one decision? While I never had the opportunity to vote for Hillary for President (as a registered Independent, I was not eligible to vote in the primary), I never supported her as a candidate for Senator in New York (my home state). Isn’t my unwillingness to support Hillary because of that incident as bad as a lack of support due to her hairstyle, or her choice of pantsuit, or the simple fact that she is a woman?

In contrast to Hillary’s Democratic campaign, which may have over-thought the role gender would play in the election, the Republican campaign under-thought it, assuming that women would cross party lines to vote for a female candidate, and neglecting to adequately assess women’s reactions to Palin.

At the Columbia event Kornblut used the word “ferocious” to describe the reactions we have to female political candidates. We either love them or we hate them. The truth is gender plays a much stronger role in politics in the United States that most of us would like to admit.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the challenges women face in advancing to the highest ranks in politics bear an uncanny resemblance to the challenges women face in securing the top positions in Corporate America. Women need to be tough, but not too tough. They need to be attractive, but not too attractive. They can’t be too feminine, or too masculine. They should either be childless, or have children who are grown. They should either be single, or have a spouse who has achieved success in his own right. And, Kornblut noted, “It helps if they have overcome adversity by battling cancer.” In short, it’s a tall order that describes virtually no one.

In my opinion, the one quality that we should look for in our female politicians is competence. Earlier in the year I was optimistic that we may see a few strong intelligent women cross over from the business world into politics, but with the losses Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman suffered in California this week, my optimism has been dampened.

What I know for sure is that women are unlikely to break these barriers in politics or in large corporations, until both men and women are willing to embrace the fact that they should be there.

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The contest!

This week, I am giving away a copy of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, signed by the author, Anne Kornblut.

To enter you must be either a follower or a subscriber to this blog. You can click on the “follow” button to become a follower (if you aren’t already) or use the “subscribe to” buttons to subscribe via an RSS feed or for e-mail subscription. (Note that I do not know who subscribes via RSS, so if you tell me you subscribe I’ll believe you.) Then, leave a comment on this blog responding to this week’s post.

All comments submitted by Thursday, November 11th at 5pm will be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced along with next week’s column on Friday, November 12th.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too was hoping to see more women win in this mid-term election. It's hard to say when we might see a woman elected President. We may have taken a giant step backwards.

sullivus said...

I am a 31 year old woman who was absolutely devastated when Hilary Clinton lost the Democratic Presidential nomination. I was so moved to be able to vote for a superbly qualified female candidate during the Massachusetts primary that I started crying.

On the other hand, I completely agree that women will not support a candidate solely because they are female. I absolutely think we need more women in politics, but I was thrilled to see Whitman and Fiorina (along with many of the "Mama Grizzlies") go down during the recent election.

Colette said...

Sullivus, your comment validates some of what Anne says in here book. Women won't cross party lines just to support other women. Their first affiliation is to party.

Kenneth H. Lee said...

There is such a double standard in this world with respect to men and women that it disgusts me.

Men have to be men and women have to be women.. If a women shows toughness, she is not being feminine. If a man shows his feminine side, he is showing weakness.

The problem with politics is that many people have been brainwashed by the party they identify with and have lost the ability critical thought. They accept everything being fed to them implicitly. To question is going against authority. They will vote for the person just because he/she is on the party's line... even if they feel that another candidate is more qualified. *GASP* it would be unthinkable to vote for someone in that *OTHER* political party.

Party affiliation means nothing to me. I do care for the platforms that the various parties (Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, etc.) stand on.

One could replace the word politics with the word religion and have a similar discussion/argument.

Politics and religion are two things that cause and have caused the most problems we have in this world.

Why can't we let people be who they are. Why can't we agree to disagree. Why does one side have to be completely correct and the other side completely wrong? Why can't there be a middle ground?

Enough for now. Time to step off my soapbox before I fall off or get pushed off and hurt myself.

Colette said...

Kenneth, the soapbox is okay! We need more of them to drive change. Your comment about party affiliation really resonates with me -- hence why I am an independent. That said, it seems the research bears out that most people (male and female alike) identify with a party. It's really fascinating...

Steveinpok said...

sullivus, your comments reveal more about your politics than your attitudes concerning women in leadership roles. BTW, last month's Fortune had a feature on Top 50 Women Executives. (It also reveals that they as a group are underpaid relative to their men in similar positions though I suspect NOT within their corporations.)

On a personal note, in my >45 year professional career, I worked directly for a number of women. As their subordinate, gender was never an issue for me in any way I can recall. In fact I can say that of my top 5 managers, at least 3 were women. On the other hand, my female peers were sometimes openly competitive, often even hostile to a male point of view. Fighting the system maybe?

Colette said...

Steveinpok - as always, thanks for your honest perspective. I do think that gender affects us all far more than we realize. Anne's book is really enlightening on that point.

Anonymous said...

Florida Residents were denied in the Clinton campaign. Had they been counted she would be President
For a Women to be President she should be experienced in the political scene,be well versed in all phases of the government-Hillary Clinton had that.She was far more advanced than Obama.

Women need to back and vote for the best qualified person for the job.

Carol Kilgore said...

Women have come a long way in the last 100 or so years, from not even being allowed to vote. But we still have a ways to go before we are truly considered equal to men across the board in any arena. And not just by men, but by other women as well.

Colette said...

Anon - Anne does point out that a few states played a role in the election -- Florida and Iowa.

Carol - We do seem to have come far, but so much farther to go....

KarenG said...

Well if it weren't for Obama, Clinton would have won, I'm sure of it. But I like Obama and didn't like Clinton, so I'm ok with it.

Colette said...

Karen, surely she would have gotten the Democratic nomination. It would have been very interesting to see what happened if she had -- of course the Republican ticket may have been different then too.

Liz Fichera said...

Competence should be primary, regardless of gender. It's disgusting, really, how women are treated in politics, regardless of party. And it's disturbing that women, sometimes, are the harshest critics of their own gender. It's a wonder anyone goes into politics!

Colette said...

Liz, it's actually amazing that women go into politics, business, publishing, you name it. We are either extremely resilient or gluttons for punishment.

Jen Daiker said...

I love visiting your blog, I get to read all the views of others as well as forming my own opinion, it really provides insight on America today.

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