In 1997 I traveled to China with Guilford College colleagues compliments of the Freeman Foundation. One female sociologist in our group, a firebrand feminist, had never traveled outside of the U.S.
One night we strolled through an open air market. Separately, she and I ended up purchasing some “peasant paintings”, inexpensive, beautiful folk paintings with farming themes done by rural artists. Afterwards, she wanted to know what I had paid for mine. When I told her, she lashed out, “Sexism!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. I had cut my teeth negotiating with street vendors all over Mexico, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. I know the song and dance, how to walk away, just slow and far enough for the vendor to come and get me and say my price is okay. She knew nothing of the sort.
Being wise to the ways of patriarchy and misogyny meant she saw sexism around every corner. She’s the exact opposite of my close male friends, whose intelligence I respect, because they discount ANY talk of patriarchy and misogyny when it comes to Elizabeth Warren’s aborted candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President. Never mind that this will the 46th time in a row that we’ve just happened to select male candidates. It’s just a coincidence.
Megan Garber cleverly and cogently explains how patriarchy and misogyny doomed Warren in this piece titled “America Punished Elizabeth Warren For Her Competence”. But when it comes to my close male friends, who tend to be college educated, treat women with respect, and are (mostly) anxious to turn the page on the Trump administration, Garber has a heap of problems getting them to acknowledge that their dislike for Warren had anything to do with patriarchy and misogyny.
Because they are me in China. They think the Garber’s of the world see patriarchy and misogyny where it doesn’t exist. Being blind to it, they are highly skilled at rationalizing their choices. Of course, mens’ worst rationalization is this, “We definitely would’ve elected a woman one of the forty six times if one was as qualified as the men.” Most men’s rationalizations are more subtle and nuanced than that, but almost as pernicious.
Here are Garber’s problems more specifically:
- My male friends will choose not to read her piece. It’s exactly twelve paragraphs too long. They will think they know what it alleges, that she’s seeing things that don’t exist, that they’re heard it all before.
- Even if they were to defy the odds and read it, they won’t take the time to consider whether it applies to them. They won’t ask, “Was my negative reaction to Warren even in part a result of what Garber argues, that the U.S. still doesn’t know what to make of a woman—in politics, and beyond—who refuses to qualify her success? If so, why am I prone to that line of thinking?”
- They won’t ask that because that would require them to consider changes not just in their thinking, but in their behavior. How do you undue thinking of especially competent female candidates negatively anyways?
Were they to truly grapple with how to not penalize women candidates for their competence and ambition, the patriarchy would begin to falter. As Warren’s candidacy illustrated, there’s no risk of that. Yet. Patriarchy remains undefeated.