While I’ve always loved baseball, it has never crossed my mind to try to play competitively. Like most young girls, I wasn’t particularly assertive and back then, girls weren’t playing Little League. Fast forward through ten years of single-sex education, and I launched into a career in public affairs and politics, a field that was almost as male dominated as baseball. In one of my first jobs I worked almost exclusively with men, some who called me “the blonde” until they learned my name and another, who upon meeting me, called me a “little nymph” to my colleagues, creating an awkward moment and (unfortunately) an enduring joke among some of my oldest friends in politics.
I like to think we’ve come a long way baby. Today there are many more successful women in public office and working behind the scenes on both sides of the aisle. Recently I was jolted back a generation and reminded that we have a long way to go. First, President Barack Obama noted that Kamala Harris was “by far the best looking” Attorney General in the country. He’s probably right. Ms. Harris is lovely, but it was so completely inappropriate for the President of the United States to publicly comment—negatively or positively—on the physical appearance of an elected official that it made me see red. The response to the backlash was instantaneous “lighten up – it was just a compliment” or “it’s okay, they’re friends.” While this may be true, what people don’t get is that when these comments are excused, all women in the workplace take the hit—they have to be smarter and more talented than their male counterparts, just so they aren’t recognized for their looks alone.
Closer to home, one of our state’s best political reporters, Ted Nesi, noted that State Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s critics view her as the “handmaiden of Wall Street.” While I understand that he was trying to underscore a point, it’s a description that he would never be pinned on a male State Treasurer. In biblical times a handmaiden was a concubine for men with infertile wives so that they might have children to continue their line. This is hardly an apt description for a Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar who is also a wife and a mother.
Attorney General Harris accepted the President’s apology and as far as I know Treasurer Raimondo ignored the slight—for either to respond in another way would have only continued a story that wasn’t a positive for anyone involved. I’m not the politically correct police, but I do want to remind all the brothers, fathers and husbands that it’s 2013 and your sisters, daughters, wives and friends are part of the very same working world where Ms. Harris and Ms. Raimondo are taking their lumps. If you want them to be treated fairly by their colleagues, make sure you keep the playing field level where you work.