Women have come a long way, Miss Baby, since Betty Friedan railed against “the feminine mystique” of the suburban woman locked in a “comfortable concentration camp,” and Gloria Steinem mocked the attentions of men at the Playboy Club, who were seduced by her pink bunny costume with its tall floppy ears and saucy cotton tail.
Women with nothing better to do argue whether a woman earning $525,000 a year (plus bonuses) as executive editor of The New York Times was getting as much as her male predecessor. Some of these women similarly complain that Hillary Clinton — having moved from first lady to the U.S. Senate to secretary of state to twice being the “inevitable” Democratic nominee for president — was abused by Karl Rove, who put her on the receiving end of politics as usual.
“Where you stand depends on where you’re sitting,” a wise man told me, and for all the unfair treatment of women elsewhere in the world the bored American housewife has catapulted to the top, where she’s sitting pretty. She enjoys choice in abundance. Girls learn early to compete with boys, no longer assigned to sewing aprons and baking pies in home economics, but studying advanced business economics with the boys, and beating them at it. Women outnumber men in both law and medical schools, and make up more than 60 percent of the accountants and auditors.
So why such an outburst of feminist fury at Jill Abramson’s getting sacked for displeasing the man who owns the place? Men have been similarly sacked for not measuring up to a publisher’s expectations. That’s the way the world works. Why the feminist attack on Mr. Rove for conducting political business as usual? Can’t a woman in the arena take it just like a man?
It’s hard to believe that Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the man in charge at The New York Times, would put the reputation of his newspaper on the line, particularly with the feminists at the core of the paper’s constituency. He hired Ms. Abramson because she was a tough cookie, and she presided over the newspaper as it won eight Pulitzer Prizes. When she was dismissed, there were as many women in senior editorial positions at the newspaper as men. Mr. Sulzberger is an unlikely male chauvinist pig.
The arguments of feminists are weakened when the sisterhood confronts personal problems, particularly in highly public jobs with everyone watching, with lame excuses recalled from the bad old days of the prevailing patriarchy.
The sisters attacked Mr. Rove that way, too, when he questioned Mrs. Clinton’s health after she suffered a fall, a blood clot in the head, the need to wear glasses for double vision, which are often prescribed for traumatic brain injury, and bouts of being “indisposed.” Bubba himself gave the story legs when he said her recovery from a terrible concussion “required six months of very serious work,” in sharp contrast to the State Department spin that her recovery required days and weeks, not months. Mr. Rove is an instinctive and rough political animal with sharp elbows and likes to use them, but it’s silly to characterize his remarks, as some women have done, as throwback suggestions that women are emotionally unstable, hysterical creatures with weak minds who need smelling salts and fainting couches to deal with life. Women become their own enemies when they transform specific personal problems into a generalized “woman problem.”
“Whatever the facts of Abramson’s departure, it exposed in a raw way the reservoirs of resentment, hurt and mistrust that women feel at work,” writes Amanda Bennett, former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, in The Washington Post. Reservoirs of resentment. Dear little thing. Really?
What’s fascinating in these public discussions is the way feminists frame the terms of the argument. Comfortable or not, like it or not, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Women must be as tough as men when under attack. When their trump card is the victim card, they’re playing with a marked deck that exposes weakness.
A glance at the best-selling self-help books are less about overcoming old obstacles than about learning the newest tricks of the trade, and how to use them like a man to climb the career ladder. Women who have made it need no straw women to run interference when they get into trouble. Double standards and “gender-coded criticism” does them neither credit nor good.
“Aggressive” can be applied to both men and women in the workplace — for better and for worse, depending on how it’s packaged. “The world,” sang Bob Dylan, “it is a changin’.” But that’s the old news. The world has changed already, and that’s the important lesson many women still have to learn.
Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.