Ah, women. How does one bear their hysterical arguments and constant chatter?
One might assume that these kinds of gripes are relics of some mustachioed misogynist of yore, but in fact they’re far from obsolete. The difference is that today the stereotyping is usually only hinted at. When explicit feelings slip out, we often don’t know quite what to do with them.
Such was the case in recent days. After being repeatedly interrupted by her male Senate Intelligence Committee colleagues during her probing of Justice Department leaders Rod J. Rosenstein last week and Jeff Sessions this Tuesday, Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) was accused by a pro-Trump talking head of being “hysterical” in her questioning of the stunningly evasive attorney general.
At the beleaguered ride-hailing company Uber, the breakout moment of Tuesday’s all-hands meeting, called to address a sexist corporate culture, came when board member David Bonderman interrupted Arianna Huffington, his sole female colleague at the meeting, to joke that having more female board members would simply lead to more talking.
Women — too talkative! When they press for answers — too emotional! Both men’s remarks were steeped in sexism, and the response was swift. CNN panelist Kirsten Powers sharply criticized former Trump spokesman Jason Miller’s comment about Harris; Bonderman stepped down from Uber’s board.
But it’s worth asking whether the casually denigrating stereotypes should be reconsidered in a more positive light. In many cases, more talking and more emoting might not be so bad. The qualities being dismissed as excesses of femininity are the ones we need the most.
At Uber, for example, more “talking” would be an uncontestable good. A lack of communication is a major reason the company has wound up in a public crisis. From its founding, the dysfunctional start-up had poorly articulated policies and provided little supervision and few ways for workers to take their concerns up the food chain. Former employee Susan J. Fowler had to turn to a public blog to report sexual harassment.
Perhaps more dialogue in the early stages would have compelled Uber’s executives to recognize all that and adopt standard business best practices — things as basic as requiring receipts for reimbursement and as major as not turning a blind eye to harassment by “high-performing” employees — years ago. Having more women on its board in the earlier days (Huffington joined only last year) might have led the company to address the sexism in its culture before it spiraled out of control.
Similarly, if a female member of Congress is willing to press hard to get answers and results, shouldn’t she be celebrated for it? In men, such intensity is read as effectiveness; in women, it’s seen as irrationality. Yet in a 2001 survey of members of Congress, the top reason female legislators ran for office was to effect social change. The No. 1 reason for men? They had always wanted to. An emotional commitment to progress sounds better than dispassionate ego-stroking any day. Prizing results over status isn’t irrational — it’s correct.
At an Intelligence Committee hearing, the results of which could help Congress learn whether there was foreign interference in a crucial aspect of our country’s democratic process, perhaps some emotional involvement is in order. After all, the presumably non-hysterical male senators hadn’t prevented Sessions from stonewalling their own questions by citing a mysterious but “long-standing” Justice Department policy. Maybe an approach infused with more urgency was worth trying, even if their “hysteria” might be seen as an unpleasantly female approach.
And that’s the problem. Presented by itself, any of these outcomes — more dialogue! increased urgency! — would be seen as an unmitigated good. The only reason they’re seen as negatives by Uber’s board members and political commentators is that they’re attached to women. Miller and Bonderman used stereotypes to denigrate women. But their statements pointed out qualities more of us — women and men — would do well to adopt.