What’s worse than playing like a girl? Apparently, being played by a girl. New York magazine reports that the president was outraged over the Saturday Night Live skit about his press secretary.
Not because Sean Spicer was portrayed as bumbling, fulminating and lying. No. The president was so upset his thumbs stopped working because Sean Spicer was portrayed by Melissa McCarthy.
White House insiders told the magazine his deep discomfort with a woman in that role is why we saw no angry Tweets about the sketch. As one explained, “Trump doesn’t like his people to look weak.”
Our assumptions and emotions about men, women and their appropriate roles run deep, don’t they?
Around the country, male politicians have been forced to apologize—some have resigned—over comments about the women who marched a couple of weeks ago.
Nebraska and Indiana state senators, a Texas judge and North Carolina’s insurance commissioner attacked the protesters because they didn’t find the women attractive.
A Park Ridge school board member Tweeted about “vagina screechers.” You might guess he angered some parents with, “Alas, the 300 million pound Women March provides a strong argument for doing away with women’s suffrage.”
And parents should be angry when people blast women who take a public position by calling them fat or ugly or unfeminine. Because their daughters are listening.
The very clear message is that females will be valued for being decorative. And not for their ideas, their ethics or their contributions to society.
That how they look is way more important than what they say. Or what they think.
That they will be slapped down, in the most personal ways, if they step out of line. And the lines are still, even in 2017, very tightly drawn.
I spent an afternoon with a group of young teenage girls this week. My mission: coach them to stand up, speak up…well, to show up and shine. Let me tell you, this is no easy task.
For so many girls, their habit is to shrink, folding in on themselves so they take up as little space as they possibly can. To slink into a room without attracting attention. To talk in a little tiny voice trailing off at the end of sentences—if they talk at all. (Easier to send a text even to someone in the same room.) And don’t even get me started on how they can’t look you in the eye.
Here’s the thing. Those girls’ efforts to become invisible are reinforced all day long.
When we equate femaleness with weakness. When we dismiss a woman’s viewpoint because we think she isn’t pretty. When we pay less attention to the make-up of her character than the make-up on her face.
In such a polarized time, it seems futile to ask the critics to lay off female politicians, journalists and protesters to spare their feelings. Hurting their feelings is the whole point of carrying on about the size of their thighs or the shape of their face or their wardrobe.
You can even make the case that anybody who intentionally goes into public life opens herself—or himself—to personal attacks. That they should be able to take it, to shrug off the venom.
And when they don’t shrug it off? I’m sure it’s satisfying to get a reaction. To evoke outrage from columnists and women’s studies professors—and me. To know that your insult hit the bull’s eye.
Pay attention to the girls. You’ll see that the insults have a much broader impact. And stop sending the message that we should sit down and shut up and put on some lipstick.
You may have some experience of your own with what Stanford’s Deborah Rhode calls “The Beauty Bias.” Comment below to share it with us.