We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby. But certainly not all the way
We’ve of course moved forward … in the past 100 years, women can now vote for the U.S. President. We can go to the same colleges as men. And we can even work after a newborn with the advent of “parental” vs. “maternity” leave. And now – after years of evolving from being mere property and sexual objects with no power, to the “do it all” woman, we are at last have the courage to assert that maybe women shouldn’t be pressured to “have it all” but can at last celebrate that we have choices to have what we want.
But lest you think we’ve arrived, take a peek at salary statistics. Or see what happens when a prominent woman executive uses loads of academic data to encourage women to have discussions about asserting themselves. Observe what happens when a few women advocate holding on to just a small female presence in the UK currency.
So no, we haven’t arrived and as such, we must remain vigilant. We need to raise the bar to get the standards we want to allow us the freedoms to choose as men do.
No wonder my heart sank when I read about the cover of this month’s Vogue magazine:
In case you missed it: an opportunity to feature one of the brightest, youngest, successful female executives in Silicon Valley is reduced to an airbrushed, glamor shot. While the story itself (eventually) goes into the business details (you know, ostensibly the reason we should all care about this executive), a picture says a thousand words. This one evokes countless messages that women have been painfully trying to counter for themselves and the girls of the next generation for over the past 100+ years.
Though I knew intuitively that this did not bode well for women, even I didn’t realize all the subconscious messages that it brings. In addition to all of the messages around body image, being perfect, and so on, the pose has her upside down: “a powerless stance” someone sadly needed to call out explicitly to me. Yes, time to awaken from the stupor of being lulled back into the false promises of false, unattainable glamor indeed.
Sadly I heard some women react by saying, “I really don’t get it. What’s the big deal?” This reminds me of white men objecting to affirmative action policies with indignation that employers cannot simply hire how they “choose” – naively assuming that the playing field is equal and everyone should just go on doing what they want, unhindered by unconscious biases or societal considerations. Alas, as the above data demonstrates, the playing field is far from equal, and acting obliviously to that is at best shocking, at worst highly negligent, from someone leading one of the world’s largest tech properties. It doesn’t take a PhD in computer science (let alone a CEO title) to understand that this kind of imagery is – and has been – extremely damaging to women on a number of levels.
Don’t get me wrong: I want women to embrace their fashionista sense…or feel free not to if they don’t have one. But given the world is not run by us, I’m really not fine with women in leadership roles – with great potential for positive influence and change – disregarding the wake they leave when their personal preferences set women (and girls) back.