We keep hearing how things in the United States are better than ever. I happen to believe this country has made great strides in race relations and ethnic understanding even though work remains to be done. Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Presidency is supposed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Americans have gotten beyond the chauvinistic tendencies that have historically marked our society. But sadly proof of sexism exists everywhere you turn.
Senator Clinton had to fight clear skepticism while running for President in 2007 and 2008 just a decade after hostility to her active role as First Lady was lampooned by establishment forces. While many in the Washington press corp in the early and mid 1990’s fancied themselves as liberals and cosmopolitan in their thinking, most Washington based reporters have historically been behind in detecting changes in attitude throughout the country and have served to project the attitude of the power establishment throughout the country.
Even when women have obtained a certain degree of status in Washington, they had to play by different rules. When Meg Greenfield became the Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Post, she veered the paper’s opinions toward the middle, away from the traditional liberal views the Post had traditionally advocated. It seems in retrospect that the brilliant Greenfield had to overcompensate in many ways for being a woman in a man’s world.
When several liberal women were elected to the Senate in 1992, along with the emergence of Hillary Clinton as an active adviser to her husband the media almost across the board was filled with subtle skepticism that found its way into the basic news reporting of the day. Here in Florida, women found advancement difficult through the legislative process even though some of the most effective and brilliant legislators were females by the mid 1990’s. We still see constant critiques of the clothing and fashion the First Lady Michelle Obama or candidate Clinton wear. No such standard is applied to men in the same sorts of public positions. Still today, we are nowhere near where we need to be as far as gender equality politically or even in the Democratic Party.
In the business world, the exclusive province for so long of conservative country club member men, the stereotypes about working with and for women is worse than just about anywhere else. As for last year, even though over half the professional work force is made up of females they represent less than 15% of executive positions.
Sexism is rampant in other areas of the media. In the TV sports media, women are given by and large what appear to be demeaning roles. Women are by and large prevented from covering men’s sports except in the demeaning eye candy role of sideline reporting. Cable news channels, particularly the conservative FOX News have a clear template for the types of females to place in prominent roles on air.
This month the United States Women’s Soccer Team is competing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The US has the second-ranked team in the world which has advanced to the semifinals and has a good chance to win the tournament. But unlike last summer’s men’s competition where the US didn’t perform well, the mainstream media coverage has been completely absent. The efforts even of bar and restaurant owners to promote watch parties or public gatherings for the games are lacking completely when compared to last summer’s hoopla over the US men’s team. The US Women’s Team has already won three more matches in this World Cup then their male counterparts, yet the men got substantially more attention and public love. Why? I think the answer is obvious. Our culture despite efforts to prove otherwise doesn’t embrace women’s athletics unless somehow “sex appeal” for males is involved. Soccer being the ultimate athletic pursuit, requiring fitness and constant running, doesn’t exactly fit that desire of male editors in the media or male programming directors. Of course their is also the conservative mantra about soccer that it is a sport for foreigners and girls with socialism (team goals rather than individual ones, since unlike Americanized sports, individual statistics in soccer are largely meaningless and often ignored) wrapped into the narrative.
To me as someone who covers soccer professionally, and sees the women’s game as in many ways superior tactically (in this country) and in terms of sporting behavior, the gap in coverage between the two events and the two teams is shocking. That leads directly to the lack of commercial opportunities to promote the women’s games, the women’s players and ultimately makes women who again are performing the same tasks as men and actually accomplishing more, worth far less. But that seems to be a consistent pattern in American society, where subtle sexism has replaced the overt chauvinism which is now passe’ but still exists in many quarters.
The reality is we have too many men in public office. We have too many men in the media. We have too many men running large corporations. We have too many men making decisions that impact women. We have too many men that have concocted various ways to maintain male domination of this country’s levers of power.
My feeling is that sexism is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that even a Clinton Presidency won’t change much. The American need to be “strong” and “macho” which is masked with the term “American exceptionalism” leads directly to the type of sexism that pervades all elements of American society.
I fear the identity of this country is wrapped up completely in sexism. I do understand the historical plight of minority groups and the discrimination they have faced. However, the problem of sexism seems to be more difficult to root out than institutional racism. This discussion can be had, and I would love to hear divergent opinions on this. But in my opinion, the subtly of sexism that runs through so many facets of our society and may even be wrapped up in our very identity as a nation is unhealthy and perhaps the biggest social problem facing the United States.