Much, if not most, of the sexism that women face every day is not the sort of aggressively overt, deliberate and targeted misogyny that is easy to point to and say “that right there, that’s what the patriarchy looks like.” The ways in which misogynistic oppression so often manifests is practically invisible, and it’s ever-present, making it that much harder to convince the people who need convincing that they even exist.
Today, the Washington Post has a fantastic (and infuriating) profile on some female White House staffers, discussing the various forms of sexism they encounter. An easy-to-understand example of sexism in politics? When Obama took office, his top aides were 2/3 male. (This seems perfectly natural to most people, while when we hear that Clinton’s staff has, at times, been made up of more women than men, your brain may immediately jump to assuming that she had to deliberately go out of her way to find that many women, to make some sort of “point.” This is, of course, a pure bullshit double standard.)
A more nebulous, but equally pervasive impediment to women in that office, is how the women who did make it there are treated. Most women have stories, or just a general, constant feeling, of being underestimated and talked over. When a woman says an idea, it very often doesn’t float directly into the ears of the men listening, but rather exists in the ether, waiting for one of them to snatch it up, and rediscover it themselves. This is (often, hopefully usually) not a malicious, deliberate response. There are, of course, assholes who do deliberately ignore women and take credit for their ideas. But more prevalent is the conditioning we’ve all internalized to underestimate female voices, and not realize that we’ve been trained to not take them seriously.
The female staffers of the Obama White House recognized this as a ludicrous impediment. So they came up with a strategy they call “amplification.”
When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.
“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.
I don’t think Barack Obama is distinctly sexist. But it does sound like he didn’t realize that he was undervaluing women. That idea— so prevalent in discussions of Hollywood practices these days— that the best rise to the top, and if you’re good at your job, you’re going to be heard and appreciated, assumes that all playing fields are equal. But few— from the initial opportunities available to all humans, to the unconsciously unequal attention and respect afforded to individuals who should be viewed as equally deserving— simply isn’t.
A huge round of applause for these women who fought their way to the top only to still be kept out of the conversation, for putting Shine Theory into action and demanding their voices be heard, together.
My very favorite quote on the idea of women banding together comes from Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist:
If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this without shame. It’s not your fault your friends are awesome. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It’s okay for women to do the same.
Read the entire WP piece here.