Cokie & Steven V. Roberts: The guys don’t get it
The guys still don’t get it.
We all know the code. “Emotional” is a synonym for unbalanced and unreliable — the unmistakable words men have always used to imply that women simply cannot be trusted to perform top-level, high-pressure jobs. At least Hayden didn’t say the senator was suffering from a “raging hormonal imbalance.” But he came close.
Democrats, of course, saw a political opportunity and jumped on it. Fair enough. They desperately need to maximize the votes of women in congressional elections next fall, and if someone like Hayden — appointed to his post by Bush 43 — gives them an opening, they’d be crazy not to take it.
Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who serves with Feinstein on the Intelligence panel and faces a tough re-election fight in November, branded Hayden’s words a “baseless smear.”
“I highly doubt he would call a male chairman too ‘emotional,’ and to do so with Chairman Feinstein is unacceptable,” Udall said.
He’s right, of course. Hayden would never accuse a male lawmaker of harboring “deep emotional feeling” on an issue. And his unfortunate comment reveals an undeniable truth.
Yes, women have made enormous strides in acquiring power and influence in this country. But the Old Double Standard has not disappeared. The Old Boys Club is alive and well.
This is an especially important point as Hillary Clinton decides whether to run for president in 2016. If she does, she’ll face the same sort of subtle sexism Feinstein encountered. And she knows it.
Appearing recently at the Women in the World Summit in New York, Clinton was asked if women still face a double standard. “We’ve all either experienced it, or at the very least, seen it,” she replied.
Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund, echoed Clinton’s words: “There is still that element of the glass ceiling. Whenever I see that little imperceptible smile, then I say, ‘Yes, I am the lunatic woman who talks about women.’”
Nancy Pelosi, the first and only woman to serve as Speaker of the House, weighed in on CNN. “I never expected anything but a double standard,” Pelosi said. “I’ve had to have a very thick skin about every kind of thing that was thrown at me.”
Clinton, Lagarde and Pelosi all demonstrate how much has changed for women. When Cokie’s mother Lindy Boggs was first elected to Congress in 1973, only 16 women were serving in the House and none in the Senate. Today, there are 79 women in the House and 20 in the Senate.
Intelligence is one of eight Senate committees led by a female. Three women have served as Secretary of State. Three women sit on the Supreme Court. Janet Yellen recently became the first female head of the Federal Reserve.
But still. With about 18 percent of its legislative seats held by women, the U.S. ranks 83rd in the world. According to recent figures from U.N. Women, an organization that tracks gender equity, women currently serve as head of state in eight countries; in 13, as head of the government. In America, of course, the score is men 44, women 0.
Pelosi thinks two related problems help explain these dismal numbers: too much money and not enough civility. In talking with Marianne Schnall, author of a new book, “What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?,” the former speaker points out that she has been the target of countless Republican attack ads over the years.
“Look, I’ve had $100 million spent mischaracterizing who I am,” she told Schnall. “Women see that and say, ‘I could never take that, I would never subject my family to any mischaracterizations about me.’”
In an interview with the New York Times, Pelosi insisted that “she really didn’t care that much” about the attacks against her. “What I do care about,” she added, “is that it’s an obstacle to other women entering politics, because they’ll say, ‘Why would I do that? I have plenty of other options.’”
Those obstacles have to be overcome. We need more women in public life — “lunatic” women with “very thick skins,” who won’t back down when the Old Boys Clubs calls them “emotional.”
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.