Why ‘Flawed’ men outlast ‘Aggressive’ Women: It’s in the language

power poseAggressive. Aloof. A real bitch. There are a litany of derogatory words we use to characterise female leaders. Men are given more ‘wiggle room’ in terms of the behaviours we expect or sanction, but women have less latitude. As discussed in the recent Huffington blog post: This is how we talk about female leaders (Hint: It’s not pretty) , Nic Subtirelu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University assessed the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) 450 million words of text from magazines, newspapers, fiction and academic text from the last two decades for gender difference in language.

Dismally, women were labelled ’pushy’ twice as frequently as men despite the fact men are mentioned nearly twice as frequently as women overall in the COCA. Subtirelu found men were more likely to be describe as “condescending”; a term which can only be applied to those who are or believe they are in power.  On the other hand, pushy is comparable to being obnoxiously forward or self-assertive. The article details what we see everyday: Hillary Clinton being described as shrill, aloof, ruthless, icy, angry and frumpy; Angela Merkel as ruthless and frumpy.

Jill Abramson was described as pushy, stubborn, brusque and condescending by the media following her untimely removal as the first female executive editor of The New York Times. Her high profile removal was a mirror to that of Amanda Bennett, who was described similarly several years before when editor of the high profile Philadelphia Inquirer. She was ousted after just 3 years in 2006. In a recent opinion piece “Pushed off the Glass Cliff” in the Washington Post, she noted the only thing that had changed in the 7 years between Abramson and her own departure was: ‘Women now feel not only resentful, but also finally, entitled. Entitled to lead…to be paid equally. Entitled to be flawed… and to be fired, but also entitled to point out the obvious fact: Men with even more spectacular and difficult flaws than ours get not only longer tenures but also softer and more dignified landings.’

Incredibly, despite his own evidence, Subtirelu stated in his blog ‘Linguistic Pulse’, he was ‘suspicious of the possibility that these descriptions had an element of gender bias to them’. Why do the media insist on using condescending and gender biased words to describe inspiring, strong females? And how low do we have to sink if the researchers themselves can’t see the biased writing on the wall?


Taking a tip from Anglicans? Cameron reshuffles 1/3 of cabinet to make way for women

conservative reshuffle 2014Upon hearing the news that the Anglican Church would allow female bishops for the first time in history, practising Christian, Prime Minister David Cameron, described the news as a “great day for the Church and for equality”.

Clearly Cameron was feeling a bit of ‘divine inspiration’ as this week his own reshuffle led to the stepping down of Conservative stalwarts such as William Hague and Ken Clarke to make room for a round of female MP’s. This reshuffle is being seen by many as an attempt to sway female voters, since it’s just 10 months away from a new election.

As reported by the Guardian: ‘Tory sources have made clear that Cameron wants the “old lags” to move on to make way for women and younger men who will be promoted on the second day of the reshuffle on Tuesday’.

Today the Huffington Post UK  announced the promotion of Nicky Morgan as new education secretary; Liz Truss as new environment secretary; Esther McVey, the new employment minister; Anna Soubry was promoted to minister of state at Ministry of Defence; Priti Patel Exchequer secretary to the Treasury; and Baroness Stowell as the new House of Lords leader. In addition, Claire Perry is now Junior minister at the transport department; Amber Rudd Junior minister at Department of Energy and Climate Change. This should take Cameron close to his target of ensuring that a third of his ministers are women.

Not suprisingly, the backlash has been immediate. Quick to find gendered fault in refreshing the cabinet with new people over those who have held positions of power for 30-40 years, one senior Tory warned of tokenism: “This really is the worst form of tokenistic gesture politics,” one senior figure said. “Merit is out of the window.” No question then of how ‘meritocratic’ it ever was to have the majority of serving Conservative MP’s be white males?

Newly expecting? What messages should you send your boss

MaternityEmployers are often unsure if and how to fill temporary vacant positions, uncertain if female employees will return to work. On the other hand, many dedicated new parents find their positions threatened by inflexible company policies. There are steps you can take to ensure your boss knows how committed you are to your career. So how can you send the right messages to your employer before you take parental leave?

1. As with most challenges, communication is key – before, during and after an employee’s return. If you as an expectant mother want to return, be very clear with your boss that this is your intention. Don’t fall foul of the assumption you won’t be interested in new opportunities or promotions because of mothering. Too frequently if bosses routinely see women leave after becoming mothers, they assume ‘that’s just the way it is’ and we mentally prepare for her permanent departure. This is particulary prevalent among male managers whose wives left the workplace after they had children.

2. Insist you have access to the company intranet and other industry news. Markets can change quickly and you’ll be up to speed faster if you are kept in the loop. Otherwise, lack of communication can build up resentment on either side, with each side assuming they are doing the other a ‘favour’. To this point, keep in touch with key clients so there is less of a chance of your client book ‘migrating’ in your absence.

3. Whilst on your leave; begin discussions with your boss on how you’d like to return. What’s feasible with the daycare options you have. Choices like a staggered return to work, part-time or remote working, onsite childcare or job sharing are all options worth exploring. While there is no standard solution to the issue, it’s like any other extended absence – the key is in having honest conversations.

Forget the popcorn: More likely to see alien woman than Asian female on the big screen

DIDOBELLEweb_2925601bWhen was the last time you saw an inspirational female character on the big screen? The last trip to the cinema we made was for early abolitionist ‘Belle’ Dido Lindsay, screen written, scored and directed by a team of women. However, we’ll despair if she becomes our sole evidence of powerful cinema female characters. Of those 100 top-grossing movies of 2013, women made up just 15% of main characters and at least one of those was animated! We’re not alone in noticing the paucity of talent.

Martha Lauzen, ED of the Centre for Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found in her study of the top grossing movies of 2013 movies: 54% of all female characters are in their 20s and 30s. Nearly 3/4 (73%) were white and only 60% were employed, compared to 78% of male characters. No doubt, this lack of employment leaves plenty of time for ‘her guy’ – the male lead. The movies were devoid of positive role models for the average over 40s woman, not to mention women of ethnic origin.

Dismally,”moviegoers were as likely to see an other-worldly female as they were to see an Asian female character” noted Lauzen. If women are half the population and we assume they buy half of all tickets and downloads, surely it’s just good business to tell their story on-screen. Yet this truism seems to remain lost on male directors, investors and producers.

Stacy Smith, director of Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California, has studied box office movies releases since 2007. Smith reported an increase in success of a movie when there was a female lead, notably “The Hunger Games” franchise, “Twilight” saga, and “Frozen”. The latter is the first movie directed by a woman to gross more than $1 billion. It’s a well known fact we write about our experiences: 85% of movie screenwriters are male, subsequently men create aspirational male lead characters. Only when we have more female screenwriters, directors and producers being funded by the big studios will we see women’s real lives being represented.

How does the UK’s most senior female judge handle ‘Imposter Syndrome’?

baroness-hale_2510812bAccording to a recent article in the Telegraph, self doubt is more prevalent amongst women than you might think. If you recognise ’Imposter syndrome’, you’re not alone as it affects even the highest achievers such as Britain’s most senior female judge, Lady Hale, voted 4th most powerful women in the UK by the BBC last year.

Hale spoke to the Telegraph about ‘being found out’: ”I’m a fraud, I’m a fake, they’re going to see through me and see how little I really know”. Hale talks about having to find a balance between her nervousness and managing her adrenaline. She believes men experience this apprehension too but perhaps are more adept at hiding it, or too proud to admit to it. How does Lady Hale deal with her self doubt? She says: ‘Assume you can do it until someone does find you out – why not?”

What can you do? Remind yourself of past challenges you’re already overcome. As I begin the daunting task of my third book, I remind myself: ‘I’ve done this before – and at least this time I’ve already been through the learning curve!’ We often diminish struggles we’ve managed to handle simply because they’re in the past. Most people are so busy worrying about keeping up their own appearances they’ll rarely spend time being as critical of you as you’ll be of yourself. Assume you’ll never quite ‘grow out of it!’. Instead recognise it for the gift it can be: self-doubt makes you stronger- better to learn to ‘coexist with doubt’.

Clinton and Lagarde: Why do their hairstyles continue to make the news?

Hilary ClintonHillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde were recently quizzed about double standards in media coverage of women during the Women in the World Conference, moderated by Thomas L. Friedman, Foreign Affairs Columnist, The New York Times. During the discussion both women make sharp points about the persona and societal effect. Clinton said:“The double standard is alive and well. In many respects the media is the principle propagator of its persistence”.

Hillary Clinton referred to an article in which a new employee asked a newspaper column for advice on decorating a senior office. The columnist responded: “I can’t tell from you’re initials whether you’re male or female. A male should put their family pictures in the office, to show everyone they’re a responsible, reliable family man. Whereas a female shouldn’t because they’ll think you won’t be able to concentrate on your work.” Clinton explained: ‘It’s important we talk about them, and help men and women recognise crossover from an individual judgment about somebody, man or woman – into a stereotype, into applying some kind of gender-based characterisation of a person’.

A recent article about the Lord Leveson report in the BBC said powerful women were often absent from the press. When women make the news, the focus is on handbags or hair. Clinton and Lagarde empathised explaining that when Clinton met with a foreign secretary ‘he’d heard when my hair was back, I was delivering unpleasant news’. We can’t help but wonder: why did journalists ever feel the need the need to comment on her hair and what a certain style ‘might mean’.

Media’s coverage of women is often damaging, not only to the individual, but to society as a whole. Lord Justice Leveson’s report criticised the way women are depicted in the newspapers, saying newspapers: “often failed to show consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women”.Throughout the discussion with Friedman, which is available online, we see both women laugh, but, we’re sure the frustration we at Female Breadwinners feel is echoed by Clinton and Lagarde.


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