Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Advice to Palin: "Lose the wink"

A hat tip to my most loyal readers, my parents, who sent a link to McClatchy Newspapers' columnist Diane Stafford piece urging Sarah Palin to "lose the wink" as a negative precedent for professional women seeking to present themselves effectively. Stafford notes:
This isn't about party politics or ideology. It's about professional presentation. Female candidates — for the corner office or political office — face a different scrutiny than men. Women have to work harder to break sexist stereotypes...Many professional women also are disappointed to hear a public figure speak in a "valley girl" delivery, the manner of speech in which the voice rises at the ends of sentences...That's not good when a woman is trying to project competence.
I've heard women on all sides of the political spectrum wonder aloud or express concerns about both of this year's prominent women candidates, Palin and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- much as I often hear women critique another woman speaker at professional conferences. In politics as in public speaking, part of the concern stems from a sense that women have historically had fewer opportunities to speak and often aren't taken seriously as speakers, adding to the pressure on women speakers to "make good" and represent the gender well. (The double-edged sword here: I've seen plenty of women decry other women speakers, in circumstances where they wish they'd had the opportunity--as if one women gaining access to an audience damages other women's chances.) In Palin's case, far from attracting women to the campaign, her efforts seem to have attracted more men and raised concerns from more women. What do you experience when you speak? (Photo of Palin from McCain-Palin campaign website.)

1 comment:

Mary Fletcher Jones said...

It always surprises me when some women, like Ms. Stafford, appear to suggest that women BEHAVE and SPEAK more like the cultural image of MEN in order to become more accepted as women. If Reagan had a wink, he might have been lampooned for it, but he wouldn't have been considered a traitor to his sex.

I can't ascribe to this way of thinking. Women may have softer voices, they may use more inflection, they may respond to questions differently than a man would, they may be softer, use more gestures, try to win the audience by building connection. It is our way, as women. These are perceived as weaknesses by some, but others who know better know these as strengths. There are times -- many times -- when this approach is effective.

BUT even if we did not speak and act as women, even if we successfully aped our male counterparts, we still would not be taken as seriously as men, especially male political candidates in a predominately male-dominated sphere, simply because we are not men. Sad but true. Sarah Palin knows where her power is. I love Hillary, but sometimes I wonder if she understood her true source of power, and if she fully appreciated how to work it, something most Southern women are taught from the time they are old enough to understand it. It is not about not being a femnist, it's about owning your womanhood, and not apologizing for it.

I know this from personal experience from participating in a largely male, highly competitive MBA program. I spoke with authority and assertiveness in class and was the top participator in a case-study curriculum, but I could not change the fact that I was a woman, and time and time again, points I raised were attributed by male professors to male students (who either repeated my comments or who didn't say them). I know this also happens to black students. The male professors were so oblivious to their own behavior, and it became so blatant and routine an occurrence, that it wasn't long before the class of 250 (mostly men) would laugh uproariously each time it happened, as I reddened in indignation! It was a lesson for me and for everyone in the room.

You cannot change what you cannot change. You work with what you have. What is, is, as my dad used to say. So, why not be ourselves? We have nothing really to gain by acting differently except to lose the trust of women voters and some male voters (or male and female associates).