Even when we do reach the top……

Last year in Ireland, The Independent newspaper published a report. It highlighted Helen McEntee’s success on becoming the Dail’s youngest female TD. However, it quickly points out: “but let’s face it, that high is still a paltry figure. Just 26 of the country’s 166 elected representatives are female”. Sue Ellen, a Fine Gael area rep in 2013, stated how she believes that perhaps more women would be willing to join politics if they were given more of an opportunity. Personally I feel that women are afraid of such roles firstly because we are simply more responsible in the home but also because we are wholly under-represented and even when we do have female politicians, it often appears that nasty remarks regarding women s physical appearance will be made. Back in 2011 Mick Wallace labelled Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell as “Miss Piggy”

Mick Wallace “…Miss Piggy has toned it down a bit today.”

Shane Ross: “Who’s that?”

Wallace: “Miss Piggy has toned it down a bit.”

Flanagan: “That Mary Mitchell O’Connor one. I couldn’t remember her name on Vincent Browne.”

Ross: “Was she on with you?”

Flanagan: “No she wasn’t…the one who drove off the plinth…they’d want to ban her wearing pink.” (Flanagan is referring to the incident earlier this year where Mitchell O’Connor took a wrong turn on her first day in the Dáil and drove down steps outside Leinster House)

Ross: “[Laughter]. Oh yeah, that’s right. She’s nothing sensational, she normally wears the most garish colours (trails off)…”

Male colleagues often feel the need to diminish their female colleagues. PWC came under fire when it was revealed that an internal e-mail was circulated in which 13 new female colleagues who were subsequently ranked into the “top ten” based on their looks. For more information on this click here.

Often still, the single most influential, high achieving women will be negatively scrutinized by the media in terms of their looks. The media is so derogatory to some of the most influential and powerful women in the world. This derogatory is not in any way coming solely from men. One of my favourite lines from one of the video clips on Fox News shows a female reporter and she states: “You all saw the famous photo from the weekend showing Hilary Clinton looking so haggard and….what looking like 92?!!” Yep. Hilary Clinton didn’t look picture perfect after a tiresome campaign. It doesn’t matter what she was campaigning/ speaking about. What matters is she didn’t look great. This is the most important thing. Reporters constantly play on this concept of women and their looks. In 2012 a publication in Elle commented how she was in an awful habit of pulling her hair back in a casual scrunchie while roughly the same time the French magazine had a headline stating “Hillary au Naturale” which commented on her lack of makeup. Celinda Lake sums it up quite nicely when she states: “What is just absolutely amazing is how pervasive this is and how true it is even for  women reporters and the degree to which even if women try to develop just a uniform for the job we can’t seem to get off this topic,”. That topic of course being appearance. This piece has has come from this article be sure to check it out!

Erika Falk, author of “Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns also found in her publication that news reports for every female presidential candidate from Victoria Woodhill in 1872 to Hilary Clinton in 2008 has received quadruple the amount of appearance based coverage in comparison to their male counterpart. Even nowadays the notion that what is most important for any woman is how she looks with less of an emphasis on her career achievements or success.

The stronger women become in power, the stronger the backlash against them. The problem is that this is not about to change anytime soon either. There are so few women in high level positions and as you go further and further up the ladder in media, you will find that there exist only a handful of females in high end media positions, in fact only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising are held by women.

The highly successful director, Catherine Hardwicke, director of Twilight and Thirteen to name but a few, states how she has been point blankly turned down for jobs simply because it has been stated to her that the film would be better of being directed by a male, from a males perspective, yet the directors of films such as Sex and the City, sisterhood of the travelling pants, all directed by males and there is never anything said about that. This short video here from Miss Representation captures this 

Overall, it becomes clear that the struggle women face in terms of being unfairly represented by the media is having an impact on how we are taught to judge women. The full version of Miss Representation can be found here, which was brought to my attention by the blogger Wicked Tragic, so thank you for that! It really highlights all those issues and really opened my eyes! It is well worth a watch!

Stumped along the way

International Women’s day was celebrated across the globe yesterday (I was completely unaware until Google pointed it out!) However, it got me thinking. I started thinking about how the perception of women in terms of roles and capabilities can have real consequences for women in the workplace. I have recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book entitled “Lean In” and she discusses a number of issues related to such gender issues. Although not necessarily directly influence by media, the perceptions of women as the main care giver in the home are reinforced throughout media displays. Those irritating ads show women cleaning, hoovering, preparing the family meal or happily minding the children are rampant.

Women Cleaning

And even when we the woman does leave the house it seems that shopping is the next stop shop (pardon the pun)

The influences of such ads really help in reinforcing the notion that we are the main care takers in the home and this is a widespread perception. Sheryl argues that upon leaving universities, men and women are on the same playing field. There is an equal spread of success right and both are competing for the same positions when graduating. However, usually this is as far as it goes for the woman. Women begin to get the message that they can either have a career or a family. Even a recent article by the ICEDR conducted interviews with some of the world’s most successful women in business. However, one such comment really encapsulates such notions of gender inequality that still exist in our society. Adele Guflo, Regional President of Pfizer stated the following:

Capture 2

The first few sentences really sum it all up. Why is it that the woman cannot have a very successful long term career and a family? Why is it that she must choose? It is not just a notion, it is a reality. Sheryl argues that this happens time and time again. For example, a law associate may decide not to shoot for partner because someday she hopes to have a family. From a young age women get the message that they will have to choose between succeeding at work and being a good mother. We are stumped in our tracks of becoming very successful in our careers.

Another factor which influences women into not reaching for the CEO role or the manager role can be explained by the Heidi/Howard study. I learned about this from reading Lean In. This study was conducted by Fank Flynn and New York University Professor Cameron Anderson. Basically, students read a bibliography about an individual and their career success. The individual had become a successful venture capitalist and had an impressive professional network. 2 groups read the story. ½ of the class read the story where the individual was named Heidi and the other half read the exact same story but the name was changed to Howard. The result was the both Heidi and Howard were respected but Heidi (even though the story was the same as Howard), Heidi was disliked as an individual. She was seen as selfish and not the kind of person that you would like to work for. Howard on the other hand was simply commended on his work ethic and a willingness to take risks.  Liked him. Disliked her. It all comes down to the stereotypical role we play. Because Heidi was a woman it is automatically thought that she should be a caregiver, she should be sensitive and a team player whereas it’s perfectly acceptable for the man to be career driven. Our preconceived perceptions about masculinity and femininity influence how we evaluate colleagues in the workplace.

A 2012 study found that when two individuals applied for a job via a CV/resume application, even though both had the exact same qualifications and experience, the hiring managers held the male colleague in a higher esteem.

Even though we have come a long way, it seems that women still cannot shake off the caricature stereotypes inflicted on us. Because of this we are negatively evaluated when traits such as competitiveness are displayed. Reaching for the top position for women has a number of battles that a male colleague simply won’t have to encounter.

Reading:

Sandberg, S. and Scovell, N. (n.d.). Lean in.