Monday, August 4, 2014

Mad WoMen in Hell.

"Before and (ever)after" Tarek Chemaly
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”, said former secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Sadly, the same statement was repeated by singer Taylor Swift in reply to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s jokes at her expense (while presenting the Golden Globes of 2014). The joke is that Poehler later said that of course she’d be going to hell, “but for other reasons. Mostly boring tax stuff.”
Joking aside, what it is about women underming women? Or themselves for that matter. The stereotype goes that it's the men who berate, degrade, and otherwise marginalize women and compartment them in specific pigeonholes. And we advertisers are more guilty than anyone in that department: To us women are “menagere de moins de 50 ans”, “mother”, “femme fatale”, “young/hip/sporty”, and – more rarely – “career executive (in stylish eyeglasses, chignon and pencil skirt and tight dress jacket which she unbuttons in the fantasy of the CEO sitting across of her)”. Any other portrayal of the woman would be breaking the stereotype in advertising.
After all, when was the last time a man was asked how he juggles work and family. Or was he required to be smart, efficient, very productive at work… And handsome at the same time. Sure, a male is allowed to come to the office while not dressed to the ninth, but should a female omit to wear the power suit, she wouldn’t hear the last of it as everyone would be implying she is not suitable to be taken to the client meeting. Actually, when was the man asked to come up with the full campaign, creative elements, and strategic implementation, only to be told that it would be better for the male superior to do the presentation because it “implies more credibility”.
I specifically thing of the Mad Men “Burger Chef” pitch where Peggy Olson – the copy chief at Sterling Cooper & Partners - came up with every element for the presentation but was asked to just voice “the emotion” (i.e. the women’s perspective) while Don Drapper – the leading character of the series - would handle the more credible bits. But when Peggy actually complained to Joan Holloway – one of the partners of the agency and the other prominent female figure in the series – that they assigned Don as an underling to her on that project as a way to insure one of them fails, Joan replies: “Peggy, if it makes you feel better, they probably didn’t think about it at all.”
Joan telling Peggy that she is only an afterthought is in itself more damaging than the male chauvinism displayed by the honchos on the TV program, who are only mirrors of real-life ad executives we know and frequent on daily basis. But that specific interaction is also taken from real life situations where women who managed to “break” the “glass ceiling” would repair the hole after their passage insuring no other female would manage to break the barrier in question.
It seems that for women, it’s a game of musical chairs – there are not enough seats for everyone – so it’s always a competition. You could not fulfill your potential unless you oust someone else, or block someone else’s stride, and this is valid across all careers but I witness it prominently in the world of communication. Even in the world of blogging, of which I am part, I can detect that immediate animosity from established female bloggers towards new comers.
I worked in communication long enough to read between the lines that what is dressed up to me “an advice” to a fellow newbie blogger is above all a dismissive comment as to the futility of their endeavors. You could detect the malice sugar-coated as encouragement and it rarely amazes me when later all hell breaks loose.
It is said that what a slave wants, more than freedom, is their own slave. Perhaps this applies to women, having been mistreated and unfairly discouraged for centuries and across societies; they perhaps wish to perpetuate the cycle unconsciously, helping establish themselves as exceptions to current rules as opposed to creating new ones.
The world celebrated as Yahoo elected Marissa Mayer as CEO, and news sites were abuzz with information that she went back to work as soon as giving birth. What the information omitted was that Mayer had built a nursery in her office – which is very convenient midway between working and still taking care of your infant.
What she did next was banning working from home. Something I am sure female Yahoo employees would have appreciated because they too had a nursery in their office. Or rather they had an office in their nursery which doubles as a home and gives them the flexibility of doing their work and still manage to do what Mayer does – which is raising a child.
I doubt Mayer allowed those women to set up a nursery in their cubicle.
And for that, “there’s a special place in hell”.
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