Wait. Was that sexist?

There is a movement happening for women right now. Have you noticed? It may have started with Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Her website, leanin.org, boasts that she wants to shift the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can. This message and her ideas about leaning in and sitting at the table where the real conversations are happening is critical messaging for girls and professional women everywhere.

Sheryl

An unspoken male dominated corporate culture exists today and yes women are marginalized. That is just truth and I know this from my own experiences. For example, I used to hangout with the East Coast VP of a large national bank. She wore suits to work everyday, but not pantsuits. She only wore the skirt kind along with pantyhose and sensible shoes too. She said pants on a women was frowned upon at work, sort of an unspoken rule, so she never wore pants. This was last year! I don’t know about you, but I’m more offended by the sensible shoes part of that dress-code than the no pants. Regardless, this is the tolerated corporate culture, boys club bullshit that we as women are not supposed to talk about or complain about, much less change. Sorry, for the tangent…

hot at work

By taking on this important social issue, Sandberg has faced harsh criticism over her views. Curiously, it comes mostly from other women. I try not to have any judgment against these women as they are a product of the system they have unknowingly bought into. This unlikely opposition is not new. Women opposing the upward mobility of other women dates way back. Remember the suffragists too? The way I see it, when one woman stands up for equal pay, mentorship, opportunity and empowerment for women, both men and especially women should applaud! She’s standing up for all of us, our daughters, and frankly, for a better world. Still I wondered, who these bitter haters were.

Then last Thursday, Barack Obama was at a fundraising event in San Francisco and Kamala-HarrisX400naively put his presidential foot in his presidential mouth. If you haven’t heard, he was introducing California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a long time friend of his and Michelle’s. “She’s brilliant and she’s dedicated — she’s tough,” Mr Obama told his audience. “She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general.” Since then, there has been a firestorm of criticism from both camps, liberals and conservatives, calling his comments sexists, unsettling, insulting, and old-fashioned. She went on record claiming she was not offended, however after a day in the media spin cycle the President apologized to Harris for his comments and the distraction they created.

Here’s the thing though- Was that really sexist? Did he belittle Harris by acknowledging her physical appearance while praising her professional accomplishments? It’s a slippery slope here ladies and gents, careful how you decide to answer. Consider Ms. Harris. No doubt she’s beautiful at 48, and single too, FYI. As I watched the criticism build, an uproar coming mostly from women, I felt like I had missed something. Did he grab his crotch while making the comment? Did he think the mic was off and proceeded to make an off handed comment about ‘dat ass’ to John Goldman? What was everyone so upset about?

bitterThen it dawned on me. These are the same women complaining about Sandberg. Its a collection of bitter, unattractive, marginalized women. Overweight, undersexed, lonely… She may be writing her strongly worded letter right now from a crowded cluttered apartment in the company of her cats and Nancy Grace or Fox and Friends. I know this hater of fabulous, professional, beautiful women personally because I have encountered her in every job I’ve ever had.

Indulge me for a second with this quick story from my career archive circa 2005: I’m fresh out of grad school, well liked, and things are going well in my department. My male boss *James calls me to his office. When I get there I see *Lori, the 300 pound HR lady wearing her hair in her signature tight perm. She has a bright yellow mumu-type top on over faded brown leggings, her callused feet in worn generic tevas. Teva’s are a crime against foot wear rivaled only by Crocs. Anway, she is sitting next to him with a contrite smile on her face. I’m wearing a black BCBG dress with a turquoise shrug and new classic black leather Charles David heels. I remember this like it was yesterday. James gets right to business and explains that he called the meeting because Lori complained about my cleavage. Yes. My boobs. Apparently my breasts made her uncomfortable and he wanted to bring it to my attention. I was mortified and in retrospect, I think James was too. Stunned, I awkwardly apologize to Lori and excused myself. Sigh.

cleavage

On paper, even with TWO masters degrees, there is still a physical aspect that counts as an accomplishment, and here’s why. As a society, we don’t expect beautiful people to be smart. Remember Ms. South Carolina? When was the last time Kim Kardashian said something worth quoting? Now, I’m definitely no Mila Kunis here, or Kamala Harris for that matter, but as a working professional in Los Angeles, where the standard of beauty for women is extremely high, the fact is that there is a certain amount of expectation related to beautiful womanappearance in certain jobs.

Being beautiful is hard work! Even Cindy Crawford famously said she doesn’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford. Personally, it takes me about one hour and a half to get ready for work everyday. We wont get into the truck load of cosmetics I use daily, my hair stylist Letty who I have on speed dial, my three closets or the myriad of personal trainers, gyms and studios I’ve belonged too. And does it somehow diminish my achievements? I guess this is where real sexism comes into play. Did I work this hard to live in a society where a friend can’t compliment my appearance? Sorry, but until we live in a world where a woman can look like Lori (from HR) and get ANY job she wants, then men should be allowed to comment on the beautiful ones.

Feeling like you could use a makeover? Here’s the best beauty advice I have ever read:

makeoverFor Attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”~Sam Levenson

“Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.” ~Markus Zusak

*Names have been changed to protect the ignorant.

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12 thoughts on “Wait. Was that sexist?

  1. Thank you for addressing this issue! I really appreciate your perspective on it. :c)

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our society’s bull-headed inability to wrap its collective head around the possibility that a woman can be beautiful AND smart AND competent AND respected AND sexual… etc. It is as if women in particular *must* be single-faceted. There’s something all too threatening about a woman who does not fit neatly into the beautiful/dumb or smart/unattractive or powerful/bitchy or openly sexual/”slut” boxes. In particular, heaven forbid any woman try to be smart/professional/competent/respected AND sexually attractive at the same time. This makes heads explode — strangely, especially the heads of *other women*.

    The fact that sexual = “slut” is a whole other piece of this by itself. But they’re related: slut shaming and requiring us to hide our sexuality at work are both about denying and controlling the power of women. The way I see it, these rules governing our sexuality and our physical attractiveness are just our society’s version of purda/hijab. If she is to be deemed respectable and worthy of interacting in “male” spheres (like the upper echelons of business), a woman MUST. NOT. EVER. dare reveal her physical self, which, as we all know, is merely a temptation for men – who, being the totally helpless creatures that they are, couldn’t possibly see her as anything but an invitation to sex. Therefore, women must be responsible for covering themselves in order to maintain their honor and make sure that men are not required to handle anything so complicated as looking a female coworker in the eyes when she has some sort of cleavage happening.

    In holding these norms, we reduce both women and men to mere caricatures of our full selves. Everybody loses.

  2. Reblogged this on Makes Me Wander and commented:
    I love projectdrela and since she is managing to write on top of her Grad School (and I haven’t gotten there yet) I thought you may appreciate some quality writing in the meanwhile!! Plus I happen to think she brings up some really great points here! What’s your take?

  3. I reblogged because you bring up excellent points that I couldn’t sort out how to say them in my own head and you nailed them! Here here to Bridget’s points too about why is it so hard really for a guy to look women in the eyes when their cleavage is visible?

  4. If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look. It’s brilliant.

    Good, thoughtful piece, but you lost me on this line: “Sorry, but until we live in a world where a woman can look like Lori (from HR) and get ANY job she wants, then men should be allowed to comment on the beautiful ones.”

    As long as they are allowed to comment, I’d argue it will continue to make it difficult for women to get any job they want. Allowing men to continue focusing on women’s looks in a way they don’t with other men keeps us marginalized. And we are marginalized, as long as we have to fight glass ceilings and unequal pay.

    I’d argue Lori’s issue wasn’t her looks, but her crabby, sexist attitude. Her crabby, sexist nature aside, would you still feel the same way toward Lori’s looks if they were the result of a car accident that robbed her of her husband and children, and put her on so many medications and painkillers that it caused her weight to balloon?

    Focusing on appearance alone, either positively or negatively, is dangerous.

    I think we place too much emphasis on looks. I want my daughters to continue being smart, compassionate, thoughtful, caring and kind. Yes they are beautiful, but looks aren’t everything. When we hold up appearance above ability, looks over compassion, beauty over brains, we are all diminished.

    Do people stereotype both ways? Definitely. Is it wrong? Absolutely. Bias of any kind toward one group or another is wrong and it needs to end.

    I seriously doubt that Obama would have said a word about appearance if Kamala Harris had instead been Kyle Harris.

    Saying that as long as we aren’t equal that it’s okay for men to praise the “beautiful ones” allows the status quo to continue. Instead, I’m teaching my girls that what they say and do is what matters, because in the end that defines who they are. God forbid they be raised to be proud of their beauty, only to have it taken away due to accident or illness…not to mention, what if they are trained to prize beauty, but someday have a child with a physical defect?

    Women are more than their looks. Until men realize that and act on it, women will remain secondary–paid less, hypersexualized and, yes, marginalized. We’ve seen how they treated Hilary Clinton. And that’s unacceptable.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, thought-provoking piece!

    • Karina,
      First, thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for articulating your point of view so beautifully. I wish I had written your opinion into my blog post. Perhaps I will edit the piece. I totally agree with your point of view and am sorry that did not come across. However, I was writing from a sarcastic place of humor. I understand how my last comment could imply that I put a stamp of approval on the status quo. Not what I was going for. Instead I was trying to say that as long as women are marginalized then a compliment is just a compliment. It seems to me, these bitter haters always get their say in the media (the same ones upset about Sandberg) and I felt that it was time for someone on the other side to speak up. When appearance doesn’t matter any more, then we can attack the president over what he said. Until then, there are worse crimes against women that get NO attention!

      A sidebar: I wasn’t kidding when I said there is Lori-type at every job I’ve ever had. Not always an older woman, not always overweight, and not always unattractive, but what is always consistent is an attitude, a feeling of judgment, and an element of jealousy by this type of woman. She seems to be put off by me almost immediately. Its personal and it is about me. I think it’s their perception and bias of a woman who is very feminine and owns it. I’m older now and am used to it, but frankly, when I started my career and for years after, it was difficult.

      In your comment you said that you doubt Obama would have made that comment if Harris was a man, however he has actually said it previously on two occasions to other men in introductions. He introduced HUD secretary Shaun Donovan as “the good-looking guy in the front here”, and some other guy I don’t remember who, just know that I read about it when I was researching the Harris incident. One could argue that wasn’t appropriate either, however, I think Obama is just someone who compliments appearance and really didn’t mean to belittle her. I realize there are always people gunning for the president, waiting to pounce on any misstep, however, for this one, I felt like I needed to speak up. Not because being beautiful in the work place matters, because it doesn’t. More because of what Dorothy Parker said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

      • Thank you for your awesome reply. There are always trolls at workplaces–and yes I can well imagine there are quite a lot of jealous “Lori” types out there too. I just worry that sometimes we’re too used to the status quo and that, if we don’t challenge it, nothing will change. I am trying to raise my girls differently. These girls will be part of the group to change things, I hope.

        We are definitely both on the same side! Thank you again for writing back. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. 🙂 Good luck with the Lori trolls!

      • I saw it and it really shook me up. She’s vastly different from what I thought supermodels were like. Made me rethink my own stereotypes. Wow.

  5. Hello. It’s March 16, 2014 and I just stumbled upon this blog post from nearly a year ago, while searching for a quote by Pema Chodron. I was drawn to your comments section; specifically, to the last sentence of the excerpt below, from one of your replies:

    “A sidebar: I wasn’t kidding when I said there is Lori-type at every job I’ve ever had… Not always an older woman, not always overweight, and not always unattractive, but what is always consistent is an attitude, a feeling of judgment, and an element of jealousy by this type of woman. She seems to be put off by me almost immediately. Its personal and it is about me.”

    Your last sentence, “It’s personal and it’s about me.” reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Four Agreements. I had to smile when I found that you referenced that book just a couple of posts earlier. So… if we apply Agreement #2… anything that you encounter from a Lori-type actually isn’t personal and is not about you at all. Nothing feels better than being able to let that stuff go… Peace.

    2) Don’t take anything personal. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

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