Hysterical and ambitious: Double standards in gender

By Mitchell Blatt
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 24, 2018
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A file photo of Brett Kavanaugh[Photo/VCG]

When Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, judge Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of sexual assault and one of his accusers was allowed to testify in front of the Senate, Republican legislators had a major image problem on their hands. Now that the Republicans have confirmed him as a Supreme Court judge, their image problem has gotten worse.

Of the eleven Republican members on the judiciary committee, which heard the accusers' testimony, all eleven were men. The Republicans feared the optics of having a bunch of elderly men questioning Christine Ford about sexual assault claims and trying to discredit her, so they hired a female sex crimes prosecutor to question Ford instead. 

Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona, took all of the Republican's allotted time for questioning the woman who said she was assaulted by Kavanaugh at a party 36 years ago. When Republicans "abandoned" her during the questioning of Kavanaugh, it was clear why they hired her. Senator Lindsey Graham went on an angry tirade, calling the process of investigating the allegation the "most unethical sham since I've been in politics." Although Graham and many other Republicans have utterly disgraced themselves these past few weeks, even Graham apparently had enough shame -- or lack of courage -- to question Ford directly with such vitriol.

However, the whole act raised a larger question: If the Republicans really wanted to show they are welcoming of women, why didn't they have more women in the Senate in the first place? Why did they need to look outside the nation's highest legislative body when they needed a woman to briefly solve their optics problem?

In the U.S., just 19 percent of federal legislators are women, a number that has risen from 7 percent in 1990, and interestingly, more of these women are Democrats rather than Republicans. To be fair, the U.S. is far from the only country with unequal representation. In the vast majority of countries, most politicians are men. Sweden's Parliament, which has one of the highest levels of gender equality, is 44 percent female. Germany is 37 percent, the U.K. 32 percent, China 24 percent, Korea 17 percent, and Japan has 9 percent of women in Parliament. While some of the differences in representation is due to personal choices, much of it is also due to the stubborn persistence of traditional social views that define women chiefly in domestic roles. These patriarchal views work in two ways, first by causing men who make decisions to discriminate against women and second, by imbuing women with a reluctance to ambitiously challenge the prevailing social structure. 

The difference in demeanor between the self-righteously angry Kavanaugh, who began his testimony shouting and whining, and the composed Ford did not go unnoticed by observers. Lila Loofbourow of Slate remarked, "Female anger is not only disapproved of; it's read as essentially wrongheaded, a sign of pathology and brokenness." 

Many commentators say that it was Kavanaugh's unhinged performance -- which Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called "hysterical" -- that saved his confirmation by Republican senators. Had Ford acted in the same way, on the other hand, Republican senators certainly wouldn't have taken her seriously. 

That being said, most moderates and independents, however, do not support Kavanaugh. He joins the Supreme Court as the least popular justice in its history, based on public polls. So while it is heartening to see that American society as a whole is gradually becoming more conscious about gender inequality, that same shift is not present within the Republican Party.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, it takes many more years of experience for women to be promoted in business. When the results of gender discrimination are multiplied at each level, the proportion of women thereby becomes smaller the higher up one goes in an organization.

In order to change this, we must stop thinking of ambition and confidence as "masculine values." Women should be encouraged to be just as fierce in competing for promotions and men should stop looking down on women who compete aggressively. If some good things come out of Brett Kavanaugh's ascendance to the highest court in the U.S., one should be an increased focus on double standards in gender relations and an effort to minimize them.

Mitchell Blatt is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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