John Norris asks in “Foreign Policy,” “Is America ready for a male Secretary of State?”
It’s hard to tell if his piece is satire, especially when he suggests that men couldn’t rise to the position’s “level of toughness.” Norris attributes traits of emotional intelligence, empathy and listening skills to Secretaries of State like Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton and implies that presidents — men, not women — simply don’t have those traits.
While much of our political and social dialogue is centered on the “pro-women camp,” it might be important to re-examine the gender construct of masculinity and how men are perceived through the ideas of the media and Washington D.C.
Society says to young men that they must be hyper-aggressive with their physical traits and overly abrasive with their mental acuity in order to become successful leaders. Young men who have different methods of handling ideas or confrontation might feel they’re inept, which might keep them from doing great and powerful things.
When women must be good listeners, intelligent emotionally and empathetic, men must obviously be poor listeners, emotionally oblivious and generally cool and distant.
It’s important to remember that men are victims of patriarchy, just as much as women are, when we subject men to similar rigid gender roles. What’s worse is that these gender stereotypes don’t get any better in the professional or political arena.
What if Norris had written a piece titled, “Is America Ready for a Woman President?” and implied that women simply couldn’t rise to the position’s “level of toughness”? How many young women would be furious, ready to vigorously defend themselves against Norris’s sexism. But how many men are prepared to antagonize Norris for confining them into such sexist restraints?
It’s true, women have come a long way practically and ideologically. Women are more likely than men to attend college and since the women’s rights movement, there have been strong traditions of women’s studies courses in higher-level education. Little girls are told they can be anything they want. They can possess traditionally feminine traits — like patience, empathy and caution — but they can also possess traditionally masculine traits, such as aggressiveness, over-the-top confidence and a cool and composed demeanor.
But what about men?
While we might argue that men have enjoyed centuries’ worth of superior treatment, it would be difficult to contend that men have made great strides ideologically. Women and men alike are still too comfortable keeping men in their traditional gender roles.
In order to effectively combat sexism, we must become more acutely aware of how men are victims of sexism as well.
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