Saturday, November 9, 2013


Scandal is one my favorite shows on television right now. And yes, it is because the lead is a black woman in a pseudo political show. And yes, it does make me feel like one day I could be someone like her. This week's episode tackled sexism in the political world. Particularly what it is like for female candidates. For those of you in New Zealand - spoiler alert.. but not really. I'm not giving away any crucial plot info. 

In New Zealand, there has been outrage from some quarters because the Labour Party has announced it would like 50% of its candidates to be female by 2017. There is outrage because it is assumed that the increase in female candidates will be at the cost of meritorious male candidates. Because as we all know, men only get to where they get to purely because of merit. None of us have ever seen an incompetent male in the workplace or a less-deserving male in any position. (Cue Tui billboard)

I was once told that women do not want quotas because they want to get in on their own merits. That is true. We do want to get in on our own merits. The problem is that even if you are qualified, institutional sexism prevents you from getting in. Thus far nobody, and I really mean NOBODY, has given me a solution for how you deal with the problem of women with merit being pushed aside for men with LESS MERIT because they are men. That is the crux of the problem. I think it was David Farrar who suggested that had the quota system been in place in the past, Michael Cullen wouldn’t have made it in. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s also true that the woman in his place would have been even better. Maybe. We will never know.

Anyway back to Scandal. In this episode, the female candidate for Presidential nomination (played by Lisa Kudrow) of her party is facing subtle sexist attacks from candidates of her own party. She responds in an all-out epic rant at the reporter addressing subtle sexism that we all know exist but cannot quite prove because it doesn’t have the word ‘woman’ in it. Here is an excerpt:

"There's something my grandmother used to do whenever I'd start dating someone. I would tell her his name and she would say, 'Oh, what part of town does he live in?' That was her way of asking if my boyfriend was white. Oh yeah, my grandmother was an out and out racist, so I know what prejudice looks like. It's not about experience, James, it's about gender. Reston's [her opponent] saying I don't have the balls to be president and he means that literally. It's offensive. It's offensive to me and to all the women and to all the women whose votes he's asking for."

"The only reason we're doing this interview in my house is because you requested it. This was your idea and yet here you are, thanking me for inviting you into my "lovely home." That's what you say to the neighbor lady who baked you chocolate chip cookies. This pitcher of iced tea isn't even mine, it's what your producer sent here. Why? Same reason you called me a "real-life Cinderella story," it reminds people that I'm a woman without using the word. For you it's an angle, I get that and I'm sure you think it's innocuous, but guess what? It's not."

In recent times, people have been posting about what comes up on Google’s autofill function when you search for “Woman want/need/should/shouldn’t/could/couldn’t…” and “Men want/need/should/shouldn’t/could/couldn’t…”. You can see a video on Upworthy here. And I also posted this photo previously  that my friend created using Malaysian Google.

I remember when I was a student and I was working in the restaurant service industry - I got a fairly large tip from a group of people and it was unusual because there is no tipping as such in NZ (for my American readers). My manager said to me that I would get even bigger tips if I wore something more lowcut. I very firmly told him that what he said amounted to sexual harassment and if he ever made a comment like that I would make sure he was fired. It never happened again. But not everyone is that lucky. 

I also once read an article on men’s needs in relationships vs. women’s needs. When women articulate their needs they are labelled as ‘needy’. So women have learnt to not have ‘the talk’ in relationship articulating what they want out of it because they don’t want to be seen as ‘needy’. However, men’s needs are presented as ‘needs that have to be met’.  It is an interesting theory and by no means true in every relationship. I also think that there has been a shift in my generation where we are more willing to walk away from a relationship if our needs are not being met. But that hasn’t stopped women from strategizing with their girlfriends on how to approach an issue in a relationship before bringing it up with their partners because of ‘you don’t want to be perceived in a certain way’ implications.

Switching back to politics, we all know that there is more focus on women’s image than men’s image. We know that women’s strengths are tested in different ways. If a candidate is a mother it is always highlighted. It is never the same way for candidates who are fathers. Women either have to 'soften' their image or 'toughen' their image. Because one cannot be too much like a man or too much like a women.

I want to see more men in cleaning, food and diaper commercials. I want our parental leave to give men the opportunity to be a stay at home dad. I want the number of hours that women spend doing unpaid household work to decrease. I want the pay gap to decrease. I want more women in leadership positions so we have a different perspective of governance to what we have had since the beginning of mankind. This not a fight against men because there are plenty of male allies in this struggle.

Equality isn’t just a piece of legislation or a declaration that says you are equal. Equality is a constant struggle. Equality is standing up for injustice. Equality is the ability to call out sexism but also provide solutions to minimize the inequality. Our society is not perfect. We all bring our biases to our roles. We all have views that someone ought to question. That is a good thing. It means we improve and we educate. 

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