Last week Amanda Fortini articulated what many women felt by the end of the election: “both Clinton and Palin came to represent—and, at times, reinforce—two of the most pernicious stereotypes that are applied to women: the bitch and the ditz.”
Fortini’s New York magazine article (“The ‘Bitch’ and the ‘Ditz'”) called bluff on the idea that 2008 was “the year of the woman.” On one end of the spectrum, Fortini argues, was the archetypal 1970’s-pant-suited Hillary; on the other was a former beauty queen who didn’t know her continents from her global leaders. “The darker revelations of this election,” she writes, “is the fact that the vice-grip of female stereotypes remains suffocatingly tight.”
It’s astonishing that as one of the most developed and supposedly progressive countries in the world we still can’t seem to get the female leadership thing right. (However, I would argue Palin was far more the symbolic setback, than Hillary). Even decades ago, England had Margaret Thatcher, Israel had Golda Meir, and India had Indira Gandhi; Bosnia has Borjana Kristo, the Ukraine has Yulia Tymoshenko, Finland has Tarja Halonen and Ireland has Mary McAleese. Meanwhile here in the U.S. we seem paralyzed by these polarizing versions of what a female leader should be.
Shifting over to the business world doesn’t get much better. Back when Wall Street was, ahem, Wall Street, you had top women like Morgan Stanley’s Zoe Cruz get railroaded out. At Fast Company, we’re sick of the “glass ceiling” story. We also realize it’s dangerous to attribute the female leadership drought to one’s sex. Sallie Krawcheck leaving Citigroup, Jane Friedman leaving HarperCollins, Esther Lee leaving Euro RSCG–which were cases of incompetence, politics, or boys club?
We’re interesting in telling the new story about women in business. Do you think 2008 was the year of the woman, or as Fortini poses, a setback? Which female leaders in business do you think embody the new story of women and business–and what is that untold story we should be telling? What behind-the-scenes stories have you heard or witnessed?
E-mail your ideas and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.