Tell me again how women are their own worst enemy

Here at BBC News is that typical ‘women are their own worst enemy’ article. It is conveniently titled, “Are women their own worst enemy when it comes to the top job?”

Research compiled by BBC News shows women are under-represented in many of Britain’s top jobs – from the boardroom and the courtroom, to politics and policing. But do they only have themselves to blame?

Several times the article comes agonisingly close to unpacking something bigger behind all the ‘choices’ women are making that are apparently holding them back and yet doesn’t quite get there.

If the solution to a really serious and widespread problem, like women’s under-representation in politics, executive positions and top media jobs, looks really simple (ie. women just need to be more assertive), then that’s a clue that you probably haven’t quite nailed the solution yet. It’s more complicated than it looks.

Here’s one clue for Curt Rice, this time from the perspective of women being held back by motherhood in the workforce. The findings are very troubling:

Participants in their study rated fictitious job applicants by reading constructed files. Some resumés they read included Parent-Teacher Association coordinator as an activity, while others had Fundraiser for neighbor association. This had been shown by another researcher to successfully convey whether someone is a parent or not.

The applicants were rated on competency and commitment, and the results are clear.

Mothers were judged as significantly less competent and committed than women without children… Mothers were also held to harsher performance and punctuality standards. Mothers were allowed significantly fewer times of being late to work, and they needed a significantly higher score on the management exam than non-mothers before being considered hirable.

As if this weren’t enough, when they did hire mothers, the subject participants gave them a 7% lower starting salary than the non-mothers, and considered them less well-suited for future promotion. All this was determined on the basis of a paper file!

And did you see the article at The Daily Beast about how men have been found to be quoted five times more than women in articles on women’s issues? It’s gob-smacking. There’s a temptation, again, to say that the problem is just about women not putting themselves out there and plenty of people did say that in response to the piece, which is why I like this article from BuzzFeed because it goes a little deeper:

Others concur that any change will likely have to be systemic. Garance Franke-Ruta, a senior editor at the Atlantic, says that while “some softer areas are of greater interest to women and they want to write about them,” historically increases in women’s representation in other spheres haven’t happened “until specific institutions made an internal commitment to seeing them change.” Emily Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate, thinks change will have to be even broader-based: any real solution to the hard news/soft news gender divide will have to be “a big societal solution” that involves “increasing our comfort with breaking out of traditional roles.”

A more gender-balanced media would have real effects, says Pozner, and not only on journalists. She says the under-representation of women as both talk show guests and op-ed writers immediately post-9/11 obscured the fact that women were much more skeptical about a military response than men were, and may have contributed directly to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Increased confidence and pitching skills can help some women, says Pozner. But that alone won’t get women into op-ed sections and talk show chairs, nor will it get them quoted as experts in stories. Right now, she says, media consumers and producers alike are able to ignore women’s thoughts on major, life-or-death issues. And, she says, it’s not because women don’t care about these issues — it’s because no one is asking them.

(Thank you to my readers, Jeremy and Amy, and also to Tedra for the links in this post. Cross-posted at blue milk).



Categories: gender & feminism, media, parenting, social justice, work and family

Tags: ,

2 replies

  1. Hi — Thanks for picking up on “The Motherhood Penalty.” You’ve gathered some good points here. The “citation in media” stuff is very interesting, not only about women’s issues. Just in general, sources in the media are overwhelmingly male.
    It’s quite spectacular, as you note, when someone has the idea that a marginalized group has to solve their problems themselves. This just doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge deep cultural and structural factors that lead to everyday discrimination.
    Good work!

  2. The same blog that mentions the motherhood penalty also has an article about the corresponding fatherhood bonus. The same factor that’s supposed to make women worse is credited with making men better. Yeah, totally their own worst enemies.

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