Do successful women who mess up let us all down?

Or do they simply remind us that everyone's human?

Published October 4, 2006 3:27PM (EDT)

In today's Women's eNews commentary, Caryl Rivers offers three "Letty" awards (her coinage) to Jeanine Pirro, Patricia Dunn and Ann Baskins (both key players in/dodgers of the recent Hewlett-Packard scandal). That's "Letty," as in Letting Down the Side; "the Side" as in the women's (which I didn't know was a "side" in the first place). "They have demonstrated exactly how not to act once you've moved past the glass ceiling," writes Rivers. "After all, since a lot of women shattered that ceiling by hurling brickbats at it year after year after year, those women who moved up through the cracks have some obligation to do the rest of us proud. We haven't yet reached that critical mass of women in top jobs that permits merit to be the only qualification for the corner office. Until that happens, we expect those who occupy it to treat it with respect until the rest of us arrive."

Admittedly, I sigh extra hard when gals we might have had high hopes for mess up so visibly. But do they really have an "obligation" to do anything else than their jobs -- well? Which by definition would make us proud and, over time, continue to help us reach that critical Ms. mass?

Rivers does add this disclaimer: "What this proves, of course, is that men don't have a monopoly on bad behavior in the boardroom or on the campaign trail." (Yes: Some people are jerks. Some people are women. Ergo, some women are jerks.) Then she goes on: "Even though women are sometimes letting down the side, maybe there is good news to be salvaged from these sad stories. The women, it seems, are not being treated differently from men in the same situations. There is no collective gasp of horror that a woman is capable of chicanery, and it seems there is no attempt to stigmatize these women beyond what might be done to men in the same situations."

Right, and good -- but then why offer the awards? Is Rivers saying "it's not about women -- except it is?" or "Women shouldn't be held to higher standards, except when they should?" or "No one should be singling out these women as women -- except me?" And (keeping in mind that Pirro's assertion that by standing up for herself she was "standing up for women" did not play well with ... women) do successful women have special obligations to those who would succeed them? What do you think?

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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