Hold Women to a Higher Standard
In February 2019, Politico published a story about presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar and the accusations that she was hard on her staff and a difficult woman to work for. The author, Jennifer Palmieri, presented the argument that men do not face the same type of criticism for their “toughness” as a boss. Palmieri served as the communication director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and has worked for other high profile women in politics, including Michelle Obama. Her article claims “We still hold women in American politics to higher standards than men, which puts added pressure on female bosses.” We still hold women in American politics to higher standards than men.
Yes, yes we do—and should. To be clear, I’m not arguing with the claim that women in politics are constantly battling sexism—they absolutely are. And I’m not disagreeing with the result that female bosses have pressures male bosses don’t—that’s undeniably true. But seeing this line, we still hold women in American politics to higher standards than men, stated as if this is always undesirable got me thinking.
The point of feminism is that men have not been behaving well. They are not treating other genders equally. The standards for decency have dropped. We see this in the language men use when they talk to people. We see this in the way they use their bodies—from man-spreading to sexual assault to murder, even of pregnant women. We see this in the types of entertainment men create (think about the rape scenes in Game of Thrones). This is a very low standard.
When Asia Argento was accused of sexual assault last year women supporting #MeToo were faced with the dilemma of holding one of the original leaders to a higher standard. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State for Obama she supported military actions in the same way that the men who came before her did. I would have liked to see her rise to a higher standard.
In 2017, Naomi Alderman published a novel called The Power. It described our world in the not too distant future in which women develop a bodily power that makes them physically dominant over men. It walks the reader through the fear that this incites in society and the change in the power structure across the world. It is a very clever book. It is also so disturbing that I wish I hadn’t read it. As the book goes on and women become more secure in their dominance they start to turn violently against men in a sadistic way. They are not just defending themselves. They seem to be enjoying the pain they are able to inflict. There are graphic rape scenes described and for this reason I can’t recommend this book. But it was interesting to think about the way the author assumes people are warped by power.
I like to imagine the world changing in a different way if women no longer had to fear for their physical safety. I imagine that women would raise the bar on many levels and that men would have to strive to meet it (which I firmly believe they could, if they were so inclined). Bullying would decline—on the playground and in the workplace. Relationships would be less manipulative because all parties would have equal opportunities to stay or go. The people at the top—in business, academia, politics—would be there because they earned their place, not because of an accident of birth.
Of course this image I’m painting is contingent on a faithful realization of feminism—feminism that includes breaking down race and class barriers, feminism that includes all genders, feminism that is led by and representative of all people who are currently oppressed by the patriarchy and a culture of supremacy. This is the feminism that guides me. So when I hear that women are being held to a higher standard I never think “she should be allowed to be a bully to her staffers without comment because he was allowed.” I think, “let’s hold them both to that high standard.” I’m not interested in a feminism that creates equality by women behaving as badly as men.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist