Through a Lens Wrongly

bill-hillary-clinton.jpgThis is a really interesting article in the Washington Post on the challenges women face all the way from the board room to the White House:

In my remarks to the business group, I noted that it’s common for women to use “we” to be inclusive and to avoid sounding self-promoting when they believe it’s obvious that they’re referring to work they did themselves. A woman in the audience spoke up: “That’s exactly right,” she said. “I presented my work using ‘we’ and was told: ‘You’re not being managerial. You have to own the work you’ve done.’ ” But her experience also illustrated the double bind. “So I started saying ‘I,’ ” she went on, “and my colleagues started saying, ‘She’s not as great as she thinks she is.’ “

We think we’re judging people as individuals, but gender is like a contact lens permanently affixed to the eye. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, “One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing’s nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it.” Gender is a frame through which we look at people — and what we see reflects that frame.

I think the author makes some pretty good points about how we view Clinton through a ‘frame’ of sorts:

Women’s status as wives is such a huge part of our image of them that it tends to obscure other roles, while a man’s marital status is left in the background. This might explain why we hear so many references to Clinton’s position as first lady rather than her eight years in the Senate, where, as political scientist Norman Ornstein put it to me, “she has been without question one of the most effective senators.” For example, he noted, “on Armed Services, she dug in, developed relationships with all the best generals and other brass, and learned defense inside out.” And why do we keep hearing about her efforts to ensure universal health care in 1993, rather than her many senatorial successes on the issue, such as a bill she introduced in 2003 to make sure that drugs marketed for children have been tested on children, or her success in securing health benefits for National Guard and Reserve members who served in Iraq?

Not that I’m a Clinton supporter, but I did think it was interesting that I haven’t really heard much about these successes of hers in the Senate. Although I’m not totally convinced that’s due to gender; I haven’t really heard much about Obama’s accomplishments, either. It may be more due to a lack of interest from the public, a lack of effort from the media, and a general opinion that personality is more important than deeds in politics – unless, of course, those deeds are salacious; then we become very interested and those deeds are suddenly very important. That notwithstanding, I’m sure gender issues do factor into this election, and as the author points out, it’s important to keep that in mind when evaluating candidates.