Want Power and Respect – forget it….

// 19 September 2007

There has been a sad spate of misogyny over the last week. In particular a spate of forgetting that women’s career achievements should be remembered above their marital status.

Chief Constable Julie SpenceLet’s start with this morning’s Radio 4 shall we. Where Chief Constable Julie Spence was referred to as “Mrs Spence” (the story related to her comments that immigration and different cultural mores meant her force was struggling to achieve policing targets – not a light fluffy story you’ll agree). Any male Chief Constable would, of course, be referred to as Chief Constable rather than by his married title of, erm, well, Mr.

But that is nothing compared to the article by Andrew Stephen in the New Statesman last week which ridiculed Condoleeza Rice’s PhD (achieved when she was 26) because she used the title Dr when, according to Stephen, a man wouldn’t have. But then of course a man also wouldn’t have faced outright sexism of her achievements (whether you like her politics or not, and I don’t) as a woman in an intensely macho environment. His character assassination (which was all the article was, presenting absolutely no evidence for his claims) begins with:

“Dr” Condoleezza Rice, then George W Bush’s disastrously inept national security adviser and now his equally feckless secretary of state” From the New Statesman

Why the quote marks I hear you cry? (As I did when reading it, I secretly hoped there might be an expose of how she hadn’t really achieved her PhD…). Well Mr Stephen elucidates:

“Earlier, I used inverted commas to highlight her use of “Dr” to describe herself because it is telling; even erstwhile colleagues like Paul Wolfowitz, who earned a doctorate at the University of Chicago before teaching at Yale, would not dream of calling himself “Dr” in the same way.” From the New Statesman

Well indeed Paul Wolfowitz doesn’t use the title he is entitled to. But the same isn’t true for Dr John Reid, Dr Howard Stoate or Dr Julian Lewis (all serving or former MPs by the way) or a whole host of other PhD-ed people who do use the title. Plus, as a letter-writer this week points out:

“The title has obvious attractions for women in public life (bypassing the Miss/Mrs/Ms nonsense as well as misogynist prejudice).”Thanks to Peter McKenna from Liverpool in New Statesman

Indeed in the website comments opinion is varied with many pointing out that “this is another miserable male hatchet job on a woman in a leadership position” (although recently Stephen defended Hilary Clinton in the same publication from various claims ranging from Botox to lesbianism).

Condaleeza RiceStephen’s criticisms of Rice are many, and all are boringly ignorant of her actual work: she is middle class and therefore privileged (neatly overlooking that she is a black woman as well), other people have described her as gifted and brilliant and yet she has (shock horror for a woman in power) made some mistakes, Bush (unsurprisingly for a Governor from Texas) is both fond of her (one suspects as he is of his dogs sadly) but doesn’t listen to her (as if that’s her fault!). But the one I like best, I really, really do is this criticism in answer to the question of how did Rice come to power and be feted:

“Partly it is because she has a staggering résumé and is unhindered by self-doubt.” From New Statesman

So there’s the ultimate criticism Stephen can muster – Rice’s real problem, it seems, is that she’s an uppity black woman who has confidence and experience. Damn those fatal flaws! And Mr Stephen never does tell us what the other “partly” might be. Oh and the writer himself? Well this is his resume from the New Statesman….

Andrew StephenAndrew Stephen was appointed US Editor of the New Statesman in 2001, having been its Washington correspondent and weekly columnist since 1998. He is a regular contributor to BBC news programs and to The Sunday Times Magazine. He has also written for a variety of US newspapers including The New York Times Op-Ed pages. He came to the US in 1989 to be Washington Bureau Chief of The Observer.

Now I’m not saying anyone should be above criticism (where would the feminist movement be if that were true) but surely we’re above and beyond criticising someone because they are intelligent and have worked hard? Perhaps Mr Stephen would prefer a return to the amateurism of politics which allowed it to be dominated by white, middle and upper class men for a few hundred years?

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