In the last few weeks there have been lots of articles in the press about the alleged sexist media coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many have suggested that, just like the historical candidacy of Barack Obama has presented us with the opportunity to have a serious dialogue on race, the equally historical candidacy of Senator Clinton should lead to an equally serious dialogue on sexism in US society.
I could not agree more. As the father of a young woman, and as someone who has worked closely with female colleagues throughout my long professional career, I strongly believe that we will become a much better society if we take stock of where we are in our battle against sexism, and what we need to do to keep making progress into the future.
Over the last thirty years, women have made huge advances in the US - and in the world in general. But, one would have to be very naive or ideologically driven not to agree that sexism continues to be a serious negative force in our country. The facts speak for themselves.
In 2006, women earned on average 77 cents for every dollar men earned, - up from 60 cents in 1960. In the US Congress, 74 out of 435 members in the House of Representatives are female, as are 16 out of 100 in the Senate - the highest numbers of women in the history of Congress, but still under 20 per cent. In business, 12 of the Fortune 500 companies are run by women, as are 24 in the Fortune 1000.
Most statistics show a similar picture. The glass is most definitely getting fuller - but, there is a ways to go.
In a every interesting and provocative New York Times OpEd column, Nicholas Kristof recently discussed our unconscious, deep seated different attitudes toward race and gender: " . . . evolutionary psychologists believe we’re hard-wired to be suspicious of people outside our own group, to save our ancestors from blithely greeting enemy tribes of cave men. In contrast, there’s no hard-wired hostility toward women, though men may have a hard-wired desire to control and impregnate them."
He later discussed the result of an experiment ". . . researchers put blacks and whites in sports jerseys as if they belonged to two basketball teams. People looking at the photos logged the players in their memories more by team than by race, recalling a player’s jersey color but not necessarily his or her race. But only very rarely did people forget whether a player was male or female."
This is not surprising. There are few drives more important in evolution than choosing mates so the species can propagate. Your brain seems to acquire a mind of its own. Pheromones begin to influence your behavior.
Pheromones are chemicals produced by living organisms that signal their presence and trigger a behavioral response in other members of the same species. While they enable many kinds of important non-verbal communications with members of the same species, pheromones play a particularly important role in sexual attraction and reproduction.
Pheromones have been well studied in lower animals, and while the research is not conclusive, there is little doubt that they apply to mammals - including humans - as well. Most of us can attest to the presence of something like pheromones. We usually remember our first love and the moment we first met our future spouse or partner.
Romantic love and sexual attraction are powerful forces indeed. A number of patriarchal societies and religious groups try to control the potential distractions that could arise from having men and women in close proximity by imposing dress restrictions on the women or segregating them from non-family male company altogether.
Without passing judgments on other cultures, this is clearly not what many of us want for our female friends and colleagues, let alone our wives, daughters and other female family members. The personal costs to them, as well as the costs to society in general are huge.
Better to learn to control and manage our involuntary feelings in the workplace through extensive education - which begins in the home, continues in school, and is then augmented in the workplace with extensive diversity training, especially around issues involving sexual harassment. From the time we are very little, we learn to live with and control our emotions - you don't punch someone just because you feel anger. We can all learn how to live with and appropriately control our sexual feelings as well.
Getting back to the recently concluded Democratic nomination campaign, - was Hillary Clinton subject to sexism? There is little doubt of that. Was the sexism the main reason she did not win the nomination? That is much less clear.
Hillary Clinton is a very accomplished woman who I greatly admire. While we can all point to mistakes in her campaign, all in all she did very well. She almost won. She lost because Barack Obama is also a very remarkable human being. Frankly, like so many of my friends, I could have been happy with either of them as the Democratic candidate and as President of the United States.
As Hillary Clinton urged us in her excellent and very gracious concession speech, our dialogue on sexism goes way beyond whether she won or lost the nomination. In her words:
"Now, on a personal note – when I was asked what it means to be a woman running for President, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I'd be the best President. But I am a woman, and like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious.
I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.
I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of. I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter's future and a mother who wants to lead all children to brighter tomorrows. To build that future I see, we must make sure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their grandmothers and mothers, and that women enjoy equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal respect. Let us resolve and work toward achieving some very simple propositions: There are no acceptable limits and there are no acceptable prejudices in the twenty-first century.
You can be so proud that, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the President of the United States. And that is truly remarkable."
The glass just got significantly fuller because of Hillary Rodham Clinton's historical candidacy.