Have attitudes toward women gotten worse?

That's what a NYT Op-Ed suggests. But maybe the Internet has just provided a forum for nastiness

Topics: Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Feminism, Keith Olbermann, Sonia Sotomayor, Broadsheet, Smart Phones, iPhone,

On Sunday in a New York Times editorial titled “The Mismeasure of Woman,” former Portfolio editor in chief Joanne Lipman — whose magazine folded six months ago, almost to the day – argued that women have been toiling under the collective delusion of progress. We have fooled ourselves by defining our gains “too narrowly.” We have focused on the “numbers at the expense of attitudes.” Lately, there has been a lot of noise about the Shriver Report, with its cheerful pronouncement that, in 40 percent of families, women are the primary breadwinners; about the “He-cession” that has hit men harder than women (hardly positive news, but certainly thought-provoking); about Pelosi and Clinton and Sotomayor and the 17 female senators and 74 women in the House. But none of that is indicative of the actual state of the female union, not when (as Lipman points out) Hillary Clinton can still be mocked for her “cankles” and Keith Olbermann can call Michelle Malkin “a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it.” “In recent years,” writes Lipman, “progress for women has stalled. And attitudes have taken a giant leap backward.”

Since the article published, Lipman has been taken to task for her tendentiousness and factual inaccuracies, for her “gratingly pompous” tone and “insanely massive overwhelming ego” — her ego, I have to confess, was refreshing — as well as her bizarre argumentative mash-up connecting 9/11 to the supposed flame-out of female advancement. (This argument, a colleague of mine pointed out, was first made by Susan Faludi, though I would say not very convincingly then, either.) But what of Lipman’s declaration that cultural attitudes toward women have regressed? Have they gone the way of the caveman in recent years?

It’s unlikely there’s a woman who writes for a living, or whose work has made her subject to public judgment of any kind — hell, it’s unlikely there’s a woman living in America today — who would argue with the assertion that the “conversation online about women” is “just plain ugly,” as Lipman writes. She tells readers that she has been called “a witch and a bimbo.” Most women, at some point in their lives, publicly or privately, have been insulted similarly, or worse. (When I wrote for Salon about my faulty iPhone, the reaction was overwhelmingly sexist, with letter writers calling me, in various colorful phrases, a dumb girl.) The Internet, of course, is a magnifying glass for all forms of vituperation, with bloggers and commentators drawing on a rich fund of misogynist language. And the sexist talk of male media personalities, including many of the supposedly liberal persuasion — Keith Olbermann and David Letterman and Chris Matthews and Bill Maher — is often shocking, especially when they are criticizing women reviled by their fellow liberals, like Michelle Malkin or Sarah Palin (or Hillary Clinton). 

You Might Also Like

This sort of abuse needs to end. But are the attitudes on display new? Didn’t the Internet just provide a novel, free, easy-access, anonymous pasture for the age-old dinosaur of sexism to roam? Perhaps more to the point, do such attitudes, even if they are more public or available or distributable than they once were, indicate a corresponding stall-out of progress? Might they actually be a result of progress? During the presidential election, in an essay I wrote about Hillary Clinton, I argued that the success of her candidacy had brought long-latent fears about women and power to light. The criticism is loudest when the successor is approaching the throne. Seventy-seven cents on the male-earned dollar, or the dearth of women in corporate boardrooms, are indeed pitiful statistics, but I’m not sure they indicate backsliding, or even that progress has ground to a halt. What about the proliferation of feminist Web sites and mommy blogs? What about those women in Congress? What about all the “great news” with which Lipman opens her essay? The picture may not yet be rosy, but I’d still say we are inching along.

Lipman is right to argue for an overhaul of “popular perceptions” vis-à-vis women. In order for women to, well, progress there needs to be a change in the way we are perceived. But for this to happen, we must put an end to the notion that we are fundamentally different or “Other” — a few short steps to “inferior.” Tossing out  Lipman’s own gender “exceptionalisms,” as Jezebel’s Anna North calls them, would be a start. Lipman tells us that women are risk-averse (and thus hesitate to ask for things, like raises), that they tend not to laugh at their mistakes, that they are “built to withstand hardship and pain,” and that they “are less likely to define themselves by their job.” I am a ninny about pain, and if I lost my job, my identity would suffer. I know I’m not alone. Friends who work as accountants and software executives and real estate agents in the Midwest, where I was raised — women who, unlike me, have children and houses and husbands — would feel the same. My mother, who runs a marketing company, tells me her female employees do in fact ask for promotions and raises, often with a greater sense of entitlement than the men. You might say that Lipman’s own attitudes about gender are as antiquated as the more poisonous ones she decries. 

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>