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The Gender Gap

By       Message Katherine Brengle     Permalink
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The Gender Gap

Today one of my best friends confided in me that he hates being interviewed for jobs by female managers. When I asked him why, he told me that they always act as if they are too important to be talking to him, while males greet him with a sense of common purpose and camaraderie. He said he felt as if the men wanted to know him, who he was, what he was capable of, and when it was done, were the kind of people he could go out with for a beer. Then he said something I found very telling. He told me that when he 's leaving a meeting with a woman, he 's afraid to give her a firm handshake because he is "afraid he will hurt her. "

I was blown away.

My friend is a 23-year old college graduate, politically liberal, and has a great deal of female friends. He is not the type of man you 'd expect would see women as weak, and he would deny that he does if he were asked, but in the space of a few seconds, he laid before me the very reason that a woman will have a very hard time becoming President of the United States in 2008.

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Once I informed him that any woman who has given birth would hardly find his handshake an impediment to her health, we began to discuss why women often have a hard time achieving the same comfort level with employees that men seem to take for granted. While the general view in the business world these days is that women make highly effective managers because of their somehow inborn ability to communicate well with everyone they come into contact with and an uncanny propensity for compromise, the truth is that we often just don 't feel comfortable in workplaces that have, for generations upon generations, been dominated by men. This is not to say that we are inherently incapable of performing these jobs, but rather that we have been bred, even in this new age of seeming gender equality and affirmative action, to believe that we must shed our femininity in order to get things done. We have learned that in order to be the equals of men, we must become them, so instead of walking into an executive office and assuming the comfortable air of command expected from our male equivalents, we become iron --unflappable, cold career women made of steel who disdain the presence of mere mortals. We do this because most of us are still the daughters of mothers who stayed home and cleaned the house and had dinner on the table when daddy came home. Even the youngest of us, the 20-somethings just joining the rat-race, are just beginning to understand that to do the jobs of men, those that have historically belonged to them and them alone, we need not define ourselves by their standards.

These ideas of men and women and our places in society ought not to be laid at the feet of our male "oppressors " as they once were, but at the feet of every man and woman who ever lived before us. Social structures do not change overnight, even when we would will them to do so. And turning our backs on who we are as human beings furthers no cause --assuming personalities that are contrary to our natures makes us slaves, not equals. This image of the cold female-trying-to-be-male management type is the image we are constantly being fed of Senator Hillary Clinton.
I 'm not going to make a detailed case for Senator Clinton 's probable Presidential bid in 2008 --I 'm sure she 'd make as fine a leader as any other we 'll be offered for the coming term --but there are real, if painfully silly, reasons why a lot of people do not and will not want to see her try. The real difficulty lies deep in the hearts and minds of the very people the Senator would lead. She has been reviled in every way a woman can be in our society --she has been called everything from a liberal radical to a wishy-washy middle of the road Democrat to a lesbian. She has been accused, by the same champions of the institution of marriage who remain steadfast in their support of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, of remaining married to her adulterous husband for nothing more than political leverage. She is almost always referred to in the news, not only as Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, but as the wife of former President Bill Clinton.

Even as a high-school student, I used to joke with my friends that Hillary Clinton was the real brain behind the Clinton Presidency, and Bill was just there to be charismatic, play the sax on Arsenio Hall, and lend his penis to the polls. The world never really saw Hillary as a first-lady until the President got caught with his pants down and she became just a woman again.

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Many of the American people see Senator Clinton the way my friend Chris saw his female interviewer today --cold, determined, arrogant, and worst of all, weak. We see this because we were taught to see it, not because it is there, before our eyes. We see a woman who married a man who would be President, who stood by him when her world and his came crashing down, and because we don 't know how to see strength in a woman, we see her as passionless, as driven only by ambition, with no true identity. We watch her make choices, to move this way or that, to associate with some people and not others, and instead of thinking of her as human, fallible and malleable like any other human, we see her as empty.

Senator Clinton will have a lot worse to deal with in the coming years than an heiress wife and some windsurfing photos --she will have to win the hearts and minds of the American people --those very hearts and minds that, against their own best intentions, don 't believe a woman is strong enough to shake their hands. She will have every color and nature of mud thrown at her, every vicious and hurtful thing that can be said will be said, and every wrong step analyzed ten times over for every one time it would be for a John Kerry or George W. Bush. And if I am right about the strength and endurance that exists within every human being on this earth, she will shake enough hands to break the invisible bonds that are still holding her down.
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Katherine Brengle is a freelance writer and activist.

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